The Psychological Benefits of Christmas Traditions

January 30, 2019
Christmas is a gift for the senses. Discover the psychological benefits of Christmas here!

Many people look forward to Christmas traditions all year long. Christmas just isn’t the same if you have to miss your favorite foods or don’t make it home to open presents. This holiday loses its meaning when you can’t carry out your traditions.

Christmas is a gift for the senses. The lights, the decorated streets, the colored wrapping paper. The taste of the food and the aroma of hot chocolate and other traditional drinks are a delight for young and old alike.

Above all, Christmas is a time to be with family. During these precious days, we have the opportunity to be with the ones we love and escape from our routines.

Escape from anxiety

For many of us, the day-to-day grind is stressful. The pace of daily life is exhausting and that tiredness can build up and become chronic over time. Not only that, but there is so much uncertainty in life. That uncertainty tends to feed our negative thoughts.

That’s why so many people need a season like Christmas. We need a special day every year that takes us back to our childhoods and that allows us to remember those we’ve lost and spend some time with those who live far away. It’s a time to open presents and open our arms to the people we love.

A family celebrating Christmas.

Holiday traditions (like saying what we’re thankful for or making a toast) are based on rituals. Lab experiments and fieldwork show that the structured and repetitive actions of these rituals can act as shock absorbers for anxiety by making the world a more predictable place.

We do many of these rituals during other times of the year, of course. But during Christmas, they take on a deeper meaning. We celebrate them in a special place (the family home) with a special group of people (our family and close friends).

That’s why more people travel during Christmas and New Years than at any other time of the year. Seeing people who you usually don’t see helps you forget your worries. These gatherings allow you to reconnect with old family traditions.

Traditional foods

No Christmas tradition is complete without holiday dishes. Long hours in the kitchen preparing a delicious meal are rewarded with long, sit-down meals with the family, enjoying conversation and laughter. Special occasions require special food.

Sharing a meal is a symbol of community. It gets the whole family around the table and creates a space for conversation and connection. Many studies show that doing some kind of ritual before eating improves the dining experience and even makes food taste better.

Other studies have discovered that when children participate in food prep, they enjoy eating it more. Not only that, but the longer a dish takes to make, the more we appreciate it later. You could say that the effort associated with special meals elevate the culinary experience.

Traditional gifts

One Christmas tradition is exchanging gifts. From a rational point of view, exchanging gifts makes no sense. When you exchange gifts with someone, you basically recycle money. If you think about the gift exchange in purely monetary terms, it’s kind of a zero-sum game.

If you look at it that way, it’d just be better to buy yourself your own gift. However, exchanging gifts isn’t about who spent how much. Gifts help maintain social bonds because they force us to think about someone else, even if for a short time.

Maybe you’re just recycling money, but the satisfaction that comes from giving and receiving gifts lets you enjoy the gift exchange. Not only that, but people usually spend money that they had planned to spend all along on Christmas. A lot of people prefer to wait for Christmas to treat themselves or others.

People opening presents on Christmas.

Family and Christmas traditions

The absolute most important function of Christmas is to maintain and reinforce family ties. In fact, for relatives who live far away, holiday rituals can be the glue that holds the family together.

Kids, in particular, tend to develop stronger bonds with their family when they participate in Christmas traditions. Not only that, but fond memories of family traditions are synonymous with positive interactions with your children.

In conclusion, rituals and traditions are indicators of identity and group belonging. That’s why the Christmas season makes people feel like they’re a part of something and puts them in a generous mood.