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What Christmas Means to Me – the Psychology of Christmas Cheer

Updated: Jan 25

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The holidays are here and while this year might look a lot different than previous years, the feelings of Christmas cheer have not gone away.


Christmas is my favorite time of the year.


I love the lights, the decorations, the music, the movies, the food, and the time spent with family and friends. There is just something about this time of year that sets my heart aglow and brings a smile to my face.


Not everyone has this experience and that is understandable considering the amount of money and time that is spent, as well as the cold, but for others, like myself, this time brings about untold joy, love, and happiness.


What is that feeling of Christmas cheer and what causes it?


Let's break down the Christmas experience into categories.


Colors. Music and Movies. Scents.


Colors


Christmas time is saturated with the colors red and green. Chromotherapy or color therapy is a science that uses colors to improve mood and overall mental health. Over the years, researchers have compiled lists of adjectives for each color to give us an idea of how each color affects our mood.


Red

This color is known to "increase respiration rate, enhance human metabolism, raise blood pressure, and attract attention." [1] Although everyone has a different experience with this color and different cultures give different colors different meanings, red typically symbolizes love, passion, energy, and desire.


This color can invoke excitement and energize you [2] - feelings typically associated with the feeling of Christmas cheer.


Green

This color is known to "slow human metabolism and produce a calming effect." [3] It symbolizes nature, tranquility, sincerity, freshness, growth, harmony, calmness, connection, vitality, and productivity.


This color can cause you to feel calm, relaxed, refreshed, inspired, and motivated. It can relieve stress, and even help heal. Brighter shades of green can produce a feeling of excitement - a rush produced by endorphins - particularly dopamine - the feel-good drug. The color, when worn by someone radiates compassion. [4]


These colors, typically associated with Christmas have similar and contradictory feelings associated with them. Combined, these colors contribute to the feelings of Christmas cheer that most people experience this time of year.



Music


Everywhere you go during the Christmas season you hear the sounds of Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Deck the Halls, or Baby It's Cold Outside. Some people don't start listening to these jolly tunes until December 1st while others might start listening to these songs as early as right after Halloween or even before! While most Christmas songs are overplayed (so much so that we know them by heart), when these songs come on the radio, it brings a smile to our faces. Why is that?


Research has shown that listening to music or even the anticipation can release dopamine into the brain. [5] Hearing holiday music can also trigger nostalgia and unearth happy feelings from our childhood - opening presents on Christmas day or window shopping in the plaza - the music tied to those memories makes us feel good. [6]


Christmas music can also be used to improve or match your mood. Listening to upbeat Christmas jingles can uplift your spirits and increase your happiness levels. [7] So, the more you listen to upbeat music during the holiday season (granted you don't associate Christmas with sadness and despair), the happier you'll feel. In addition to bettering your mood classic Christmas tunes can also decrease stress levels. Your cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate will all decrease, giving you that calm feeling. [8]


Movies have the same effect on our mood that music does. They both trigger a release of dopamine and serotonin, putting us in a better mood. Watching movies with others - family or friends - can create feelings of togetherness and connectedness. Also, the movies, especially if these are re-watches, can bring back good memories. Those memories can be triggered by something specific that happened in the movies (a kid going to sit on Santa's lap) or the movie itself.



Scents


Your sense of smell is the sense most tied to memories and feelings. A whiff of peppermint can bring back memories of making peppermint bark in the kitchen with your mom and the smell of pine can take you back to times spent with dad picking out the perfect Christmas tree.

According to Competitive Choice, smell can help with the following:


Irritation

Stress

Depression

Apathy

Enhancement of Happiness

Sensuality

Relaxation

Stimulation

Anxiety [10]


On their own, holiday scents don't have any significant effect. These scents have to be tied to fond memories in order to be effective. If you hate peppermint tea or have a bad memory of peppermint tea, don't expect the smell of peppermint to invigorate you and energize you. It will do just the opposite.


Certain scents can help with different things. Peppermint can increase focus, release tension, increase your energy levels, or uplift your mood. Cinnamon can trigger a sense of warmth if associated with warm memories [11]


Try using different Christmas-scented candles around the house during the holiday season and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the improvement in mood. Put on some holiday tunes and sing out loud while you decorate cookies in your kitchen. Watch Christmas movies with your family or friends all snuggled with some hot cocoa or decorate the tree with brightly colored lights and ornaments.






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