You don’t have to be home for the holidays to feel the love this time of year. As anyone who’s ever spent Thanksgiving on the road, Christmas with strangers, or New Year’s Eve in a foreign land can attest, it’s often the people you’re with who make the season bright. And when you spend a holiday in a hostel, you may just find yourself forming a spontaneous family with whoever’s around, celebrating and laughing with new friends you’ve never met.
To end this year, we’ve collected favorite holiday hostel stories from some of our awesome staff across Northern California. We hope their memories will inspire you to get out there and make your own!
Danny, Director of Operations, HI USA Northwest Region:
“Last year’s Candlelight Caroling night at HI-San Francisco City Center was really special. When I arrived at the hostel, the caroling had already commenced. I was in the lobby and there was this beautiful string quartet. Everyone had candles, it was dark and there was a lit Christmas tree. The lobby was packed and everyone was singing. I was just overtaken. How could you not surrender to that spirit? And then I went over to the mezzanine and there were all these people up above looking down, looking so cozy. It was really beautiful, and I was so thankful to have so many hostel guests there. I can’t imagine going to a hostel in a place I didn’t live and having that experience. I don’t think that happens every day.”
Marc, General Manager, HI-Sacramento:
“This Thanksgiving was the best one I’ve ever had. A local woman in Sacramento had asked if she could use the hostel’s kitchen and dining area to host her Thanksgiving dinner because her apartment was too small for all the family members she wanted to have over. They expected 14 family members, which actually came to about 23. And then they rented five of our private rooms for their guests who were traveling from further south. They cooked an enormous meal and invited all the other hostel guests and staff to join them for dinner, as well -- in all, we had about 40 people join us. It was truly amazing. We had people from all over the world who had never experienced an American Thanksgiving before. There was an Australian couple, a Canadian couple. I tried deep-fried turkey for the first time. After dinner, everyone went outside and played Frisbee and tossed around a boomerang. We’ll be keeping the tradition going by hosting our own Thanksgiving next year and extending the invitation out to local community members.”
Molly, General Manager, HI-San Francisco City Center:
“My most memorable hostel Christmas was over a decade ago now (yikes!), when I went on a year-long trip around the world. I arrived in New Zealand in mid-December, 2003. I remember being confused immediately as my first hostel stay was on the fifth floor of an Auckland hostel. They had sprayed that frosty fake snow on all the windows and were embracing the holidays like we were in Jolly Olde England itself. Through the windows it looked grey and cold outside, like a regular northern hemisphere holiday, but as soon as you stepped out of doors you were struck by a wall of muggy overcast heat. What a head trip! Christmas itself came after we'd spent two weeks driving around and camping with a friend on the North Island. We decided to splurge on a hostel overnight at the lovely YHA Opoutere on Christmas Eve. What I remember most was going for a sunset walk on a little peninsula across from the hostel, and getting chased by crazy red-eyed birds who were trying to nest, and then getting lost in the woods once we ran inland to get away from them. Eventually we made it back to our super-picturesque hostel, and went to sleep. In the morning my friend and I got up and cooked a big backpacker Christmas breakfast, and exchanged little gifts and had friendly chats with our fellow guests. I was so happy to be in a home-type space for what was otherwise a pretty bizarre experience.”
Jesse, Community Engagement Manager:
“My boyfriend and I had just arrived at the Gare du Nord train station on a rainy night to kick off a romantic New Year’s Eve trip to Paris. We drudged through the unsympathetic rain just long enough to achieve complete saturation before finally arriving, soggy and defeated, at the front door of our hostel, an aggressively rectangular and industrial-looking façade that loomed in the dark and promised shelter from the weather and beds for sleeping and forgetting the train troubles we’d had earlier in the evening. As we approached the hostel’s front desk, a beaming staff member offered us a spectacularly toothy smile and paired it with a casual, warm welcome, before informing us that our room selection had been upgraded. She finished her charm offensive by pointing out the lobby bar, which was attached to the front desk and was no more than ten feet away. This woman knew what she was doing and who she was dealing with! Under her expert, hospitable ministrations, the bad-feeling goblins that had plagued us during that day's long train journey from England were quickly retreating into the periphery. Ten minutes later, our bags stored in our room, water still dripping from our hair, we were seated at the lobby bar, settling in for our first, second, and third glass of cheap French wine. I held my boyfriend’s hand under the bar and began to remember that we were in love and in Paris. The next evening, we’d end the year together, drinking cheap champagne in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, just a couple of tourists. The receptionist checked in with us at the bar, and invited us to a New Year’s Eve dinner the staff would be hosting for the guests the following evening. It was still raining, I think.”
Jessica, Online Content Coordinator:
“My first Christmas away from home was spent on the shores of an enormous lake on New Zealand’s South Island. I’d been living and working at a small hostel where the staff had become my second family. On Christmas morning, it was 90 degrees and sunny outside – my first experience with a southern hemisphere December. The whole staff woke up early that day and made breakfast for a full house of guests. Afterward, a bunch of the staff and guests – about 30 in all – ran down to the lake and jumped in at the same time. It’s such a massive, deep lake that it was still freezing cold, even in the dead of summer. But we were having such a good time, we all swam out to a floating dock and kept jumping off, climbing back up, and jumping back in. That night, we made a huge, traditional Christmas dinner and crammed about 60 people into the hostel dining room, then ended the night with carols and Christmas movies. My first Christmas away from home ended with me feeling more at home than I’d ever felt!”