Psychology of Christmas

The Christian celebration of Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in the world, mainly due to Christianity being extremely embedded into western society. Even though religion may start to be playing a less prominent role in the western world, why has it remained immensely popular? Here are a few guesses… ​ Humans are creatures of habit- it is easy to hold onto things that are familiar. We are also wired with cognitive bias which are mistakes in the cognitive process like evaluating, reasoning and remembering. These are mainly based on personal beliefs and happen in the subconscious mind, all humans have very different biases, as we go through different experiences with different perceptions. ​ Traditions shape our actions and can remain one of the few constants in a hectic world, traditions can be a huge part of Christmas. A lot of changes occur from childhood to adulthood meaning some may feel an inability to rely and trust on others due to the fast rate of change. So because Christmas (and therefore traditions) happen every year it can bring a lot of comfort to people. Christmas traditions are usually formed during childhood and a lot of the time are kept through until adulthood, the importance of tradition may not be the tradition itself but in the association, the event has with one’s childhood. Which could be a pure child-like wonder and joy, as there is no barrier of reality that may interrupt these feelings, a time when you may have been shielded from a lot of life’s chaos. Growing out of the possible, ‘blissful ignorance of a child is extremely painful for many and traditions can be a way for people to try and access those emotions or even just reminisce on them. Researchers have said the continuation of any tradition could be to avoid the threat of punishment, once you separate punishment from the socially constructed meaning, it doesn’t sound as extreme and may make more sense. People could fear the end of traditions because they don’t know the consequence of losing consistency in our behaviour, consistency helps us to avoid certain negative emotions (loss, disappointment, embarrassment) and benefits our everyday decision making. Nostalgia is a feeling experienced by many when Christmas time comes around through all the decorations and scents. One’s reflection on past positive experiences is said by researchers to bring about more social connectedness and therefore increased self-esteem, the optimistic feeling through reflection can lead to positive evaluations for your future. ​ Another possible reason for Christmas’ popularity is how we learn from others, which social psychologists call, ‘a combination of social learning and punishment avoidance’. Due to herd behaviour being the prime cognitive bias under most of the processes in our life (these processes in fancy terms can be culture development, trends and innovation adoption), we often look to other people in order to devise the appropriate way to act in certain situations, so that we don’t go against the image we have built for ourselves. The Christmas period gives people a chance to escape from reality, for example, school or work. Christmas symbolises very positive things or, ‘warm and fuzzy feelings’ like love, charity, kindness and forgiveness, which are strongly represented in all Christmas media, like films and music. The persuasive nature involved in anything Christmas themed means that these positive attributes are often reflected onto the consumers, which psychologists call transportation. As consumers immerse themselves in this media it can actually change their attitude, intentions and even behaviour, people can subconsciously re-enact these positive values in their lives. ​ In conclusion, Christmas (and traditions in general) can bring out different sides to people, so from a psychology standpoint, it's interesting and fun to reflect on the quirkiness of human behaviour. ​ By Florence

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