fb-pixel Skip to main content

It’s an Allston Christmas tradition: Students scrounging through leftovers on the street

Xiwei Wang of Allston waited for a moving truck outside of her former apartment in Allston on Sunday.
Xiwei Wang of Allston waited for a moving truck outside of her former apartment in Allston on Sunday.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

There are rules for Allston Christmas, that special time of year when college students moving out of their apartments in the Boston neighborhood leave behind unwanted furniture, clothes, and appliances for the students moving in.

Rule 1: Don’t assume something left on the street is free for the taking. Look for a sign, or ask someone first.

Rule 2: If you’re moving out, try to have someone stand sentry near your stuff, in case people are not following rule number one.

Rule 3: Never take mattresses left on the sidewalks and streets. In fact, avoid upholstery altogether.

College kids and cloth-bound furniture are “probably not a good mix after a semester or two,” noted Matt Cohen, a 25-year-old audio engineer from Arlington who visited Allston on Sunday to scavenge for leftovers.

Advertisement



It was the first Allston Christmas for Cohen, who works in the neighborhood and was drawn to the annual happening by coworkers who had found worn-looking but still valuable treasures in the past.

Boston University senior Jack Claxton’s prized find: a grill.
Boston University senior Jack Claxton’s prized find: a grill.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

“Last year, one of my colleagues got a flat-screen TV,” Cohen said as he stood on Pratt Street, which was choked with cars and trucks all packed with students and their parents trying to find parking.

It is a tradition older than the students themselves: Every Sept. 1, when leases are up, students who have graduated or are simply moving discard the old in the hopes it will become someone’s new. It is a ritual that extends throughout the city, but those who have studied the phenomenon believe it can be traced back to the 1960s in the working-class neighborhoods of Allston and Brighton, when Boston University and Boston College were expanding and students began flocking there to find affordable housing.

It is unclear when the phrase Allston Christmas was coined, but it has been around since at least 2008, when it appeared in the urban dictionary.

Advertisement



And few are above trying to capitalize on the weekend, from a boy who was selling $3 cups of lemonade on Osborne Street — “I hope to make $100 by the end of the weekend,” he said — to the beer maker Harpoon Brewery, which released a limited-edition brew called Allston XMAS. “Pairs well with unpacking,” Harpoon’s innovation brewer, Tom Graham, recently quipped to Boston.com.

On Sunday, outgoing tenants left paintings, couches, grills, and an Apple television,

Jack Claxton, a 21-year-old Boston University senior, dragged a large round, black grill that still had charred coals inside.

He had found it on Pratt Street but made sure he got the blessing of the people inside before he went off with it.

“Last year we were moving out and we got two TVs stolen,” Claxton said as he made the half-mile trek from Pratt Street to his new place in Brookline.

BU sophomore Blake Rondeau moved into his new pad on Sunday.
BU sophomore Blake Rondeau moved into his new pad on Sunday.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Then there was the trash no one wanted.

On Ashford Street, bags were strewn in the driveway. One looked like some creature had torn into it, with empty cartons spilled out onto the pavement. Red plastic cups, the ubiquitous drinking container of college students everywhere, had rolled near the sidewalk. City inspectors were not pleased and left a $250 ticket for the homeowner.

In the past, landlords regularly failed to follow city codes, once to deadly consequences. In 2013, a Boston University student was killed in a fire after she was unable to escape from her attic room. The tragedy led to a Globe investigation that uncovered numerous violations by landlords who took advantage of cash-strapped students, allowing for overcrowding and failures to adhere to safety codes.

Advertisement



On Sunday, Dion Irish, commissioner of the city’s inspectional services, sent inspectors to one house on Ashford Street at the request of parents, who wanted to make sure the landlord had updated the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and secured porch railings. The house looked good, said Irish and noted with approval the large dumpster the landlord had rented for the outgoing tenants to use.

“They’re meeting our expectations,” he said of landlords.

Inspector Sherea McLaughlin checked a home in Allston Sunday. During college move-in, the city steps up code enforcement.
Inspector Sherea McLaughlin checked a home in Allston Sunday. During college move-in, the city steps up code enforcement.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

On the sidewalks, few items went unclaimed. A tall, rusty and unwieldy metal shelf rack left on Ashford Street was quickly scooped up by Olivia Fordyce, a 20-year-old Boston University junior.

“I’m a student with not a lot of money,” Fordyce said as she huffed along Ashford Street with her friend, Sharon Yeh, a 21-year-old junior. “Is it rickety? Is it huge? Is it annoying to carry? Yes. But I got it for free and it’s going to come in handy.”

Fordyce said last year Allston Christmas helped her keep her furniture expenses at $30. She hoped to come in under that this year.

“I found a mattress for free,” Fordyce said.

Yeh was horrified.

“Aaagggh!” she groaned.

“I’ll disinfect it,” Fordyce shrugged. “I’ll put new sheets on it. As long as it doesn’t have bedbugs.”

Advertisement



Yeh shook her head.

“There are some things that are used that shouldn’t be reused,” Yeh said.

Seth Jones, 21, of Sanford, Maine, strapped down mattresses to a trailer full of of disposed belongings.
Seth Jones, 21, of Sanford, Maine, strapped down mattresses to a trailer full of of disposed belongings.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.