On the first day of Christmas, your loved one may surprise you with a partridge in a pear tree, or an acrylic ornament, if they attend James Madison University’s X-Labs workshops.
At JMU X-Labs, education and fun go hand in hand as student facilitators and staff guide participants to navigate transdisciplinary programming opportunities for free. To count down the holidays, the exploratory laboratory is celebrating 12 Days of JMU X-Labs with projects including customizing wooden ornaments with a laser and navigating a gingerbread house virtual escape room.
Emily Winter, director of programming, said 12 Days of JMU X-Labs was inspired by the annual flocking of university students and faculty to the lab with creative ideas for gift giving like etching glassware or designing cutting boards. Rather than ignore the steady stream of intriguing styles visitors imagined and made, Winter said she wanted to encourage the community’s brilliance and extend accessibility of making by dedicating a series to the winter.
“We’ve always gotten super busy around the holidays,” Winter said. “People always came up with cool ideas every year, so we wanted to celebrate that and encourage other people to do the same thing.”
Since Monday, every weekday at the labs has explored a new wintry-themed opportunity with pop-ups, contests or virtual games.
In-person workshops have a 20-person capacity, and the group is split in two to encourage distancing. After this weekend, most activities will be offered online since students are not required on campus after Thanksgiving break.
Senior Olivia Klimko is a student facilitator in the X-Labs and planned an acrylic ornament making workshop earlier this week after watching a similar trend take off on the social media app TikTok.
“People don’t always have the resources to make them themselves, and the X-Labs allows them to make it,” she said.
Within the workshop, Klimko said several participants bring individuality to their crafts, and one student went so far as to create several layers of vinyl within a single ornament to make a realistic design.
Klimko described herself as an analytical thinker who has trouble expressing herself creatively, but the X-Labs is a supportive resource for all brands of thinkers and makers.
“I don’t have a lot of outlets of creativity in my major, so I think X-Labs is a way to be creative,” she said. “This holiday series has something for everyone, and it’s a great way to get involved with X-Labs and all it has to offer.”
Vicky Somma is a resident of Prince William County and a self-described 3D printing enthusiast who follows JMU X-Labs on Facebook, among several other Virginia creative spaces with 3D printer access.
Somma said JMU’s ornament workshops caught her eye because it’s a fun, accessible way to customize presents for the holidays, and she supports the expansion of 3D printing as a tangible means of transforming dreams into reality.
“The addiction comes from — you have an idea in your head, and you 3D model it — and then it’s in your hand and that’s what hooks you,” she said. “You’re making your ideas a physical reality.”
Winter said the in-person events have been consistently at capacity, and registration prioritizes students, staff and faculty, but community members are encouraged to register and join the waitlist, even if a class is fully booked.
“We’ve set up waitlists for all of our workshop and a lot of times, like this week, students will drop out last minute because there’s exams or family emergencies, so people can’t attend,” Winter said. “Almost everyone who’s been on our waitlist so far has been able to come to the event.”
Klimko is also organizing an upcoming tournament of the popular new video game taking the world by storm, Among Us, for Dec. 4. As a multiplayer, science fiction murder mystery game, the event is a stress-free opportunity to start the month with some easygoing fun.
If the idea of holiday shopping is the final stressor that will break the camel’s back, making something unique for loved ones is an option with 12 Days of X-Labs.
“We’re here to help people with projects and think through their ideas,” Winter said.