Why It’s Actually Good to Decorate ‘Early’ for Christmas, According to Science

Why It’s Actually Good to Decorate ‘Early’ for Christmas, According to Science
Photo: OLI SCARFF, Getty Images

I am wholly and unwaveringly a December Christmas decorator. (Before kids, sometimes it was mid-month before I decked any halls.) No ornament leaves its box, no sprig of holly tickles the mantel, no tree makes its way through the front door until Thanksgiving has passed. I’m generally not down with seasonal rushing; I am low-key offended by both pumpkin spice anything on store shelves in August and Christmas trees adorning my local Costco while I’m doing back-to-school shopping.

So it puzzles me greatly when people festoon their doorways with garlands and bust out the red and green plaid duvet cover that goes with their “Beary Christmas” sheet set while it’s still prime Halloween season, at least according to my front yard.

But as it turns out, those who decorate early may know something we don’t: Not only do they appear more friendly, open, and sociable to neighbours, they may also experience mental health benefits.

Anticipation, nostalgia, and distraction

As Kelly Sopchak, PhD writes for Vital Record, people who decorate early can enjoy three major benefits: the anticipation of “looking forward to happier times,” the comfort of nostalgia, which can “help increase feelings of social connectedness and support,” and a distraction from current stressors.

Psychoanalyst and mindset coach Steve McKeown furthered this idea when he told UNILAD, “[i]n a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood. Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement.”

(He did acknowledge there are sometimes deeper, symptomatic reasons for “obsessively” decorating early, such as past neglect. But here we’re focused on standard-issue — not excessive or overly escapist — decorating.)

Decorating can boost feel-good hormones

In addition to taking us out of our normal humdrum routines and reminding us of simpler, happier times, decorating “does create a neurological shift than can produce happiness,” psychologist Deborah Serani told Today. “Christmas decorating will spike dopamine, a feel-good hormone.” (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals to the pleasure and reward centre of your brain.) Serani indicated that effects similar to those gained through “chromotherapy” or colour therapy, an alternative medicine practice used to heal pain, may be responsible for the spike.

It can help combat depression

While the holidays can be depressing for some, there is a flip side. As Dr. Marcus De Carvalho, a board-certified psychiatrist, told First Coast News, this season of thinking about others can actually help people with depression. “Depression is something where we’re internally focused; its almost like a trap door,” Dr. De Carvalho said. “But with the holidays, it’s an opportunity to give and not think inwardly.”

Additionally, we are more likely to get out of our own houses around the holidays. “We want to go to places and we want to see people’s lights,” Dr. De Carvalho said. “When we do that, it strengthens our communities and improves our mood.”

So what are you waiting for?

Despite these myriad mood perks, for me personally, Christmas decorating early feels like doing a disservice to humble Turkey Day, and will spike anxiety about the 6,372 new responsibilities I now have to make the season magical for my family. So, do I plan to decorate in November anytime soon? No. But will I side-eye those who break out the nativity scenes early?

Now that I understand why they might be doing it…I’m really going to try not to.

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