Vacation means vacation: Why you shouldn’t feel guilty about returning all those unread books
Some validation for you
This article is basically my way of procrastinating doing the work I should have done over the Christmas holiday, but I have #noregrets that I didn't do the reading and neither should you.
Cambridge is exhausting. No matter how much you enjoy it, there comes a point when it is quite frankly too much, which is why we have such long holidays. Except that almost everybody gets set a stack of work to do in the holiday and also has to revise or consolidate (read as: catch up on lectures you were too 'tired' to attend) from last term. And in all likelihood, importantly, you end up trying to do it all in the last week of the holiday or the first few days of the new term.
Or, as I did, you might smugly return to Cambridge work-free, stress-free and guilt-free about it, to then find, in the depths of your un-read emails, that you actually were set work (grim) and now have 48 hours instead of six weeks to do it. Turns out playing hard to get via @cam emails doesn't always go down well with the supervisors.
This "vac work" thing is not a good situation. After the intensity of 8 weeks in this bubble, what is needed is time to relax and watch trashy TV and try to explain to your home friends what a 'gyp' is and when exactly you turned into the kind of Oxbridge-idiot that uses words like 'gyp'. Having a break is probably the best possible thing for your sanity and your degree.
I know that the holidays are very very very long, and doing some work is arguably a good thing. However, catching up and even reading out of interest (sorry what?) some of those books that your lecturer mentioned (the ones that you were too busy surviving the latest essay to read) is more than enough.
And even if you didn't do any work, I bet you've returned more refreshed and better equipped to deal with the next term than those scary Camfess-on-Christmas-Day people. A system which encourages students to never properly switch off from their course is a slightly broken system, I think. There is so much pressure to do work over the holidays, or to put on a display of guilt when you return for how little work you did. Have no regrets, folks!
Obviously, everybody works in their own way. If working through the holidays floats your boat, then go for it. But, the pressure to be like that is hard to avoid and a university that adds to this pressure (particularly by giving holidays so long that not working at all seems crazy) doesn't help. We're here because we're interested in something; Cambridge should trust us to go home and remain interested in it. Or, alternatively, change this crazily-intense academic pace so that it's actually sustainable for more than 8 weeks at a time.
Basically, you're not wrong for not doing vac work, it's the system that is. Try explaining that to your supervisor. Oh, and don't forget to return all those optimistically-borrowed books.