Getting the halls decked

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
There are health benefits to getting out the Christmas decorations early, writes Jan Aitken. 

Indulge me a little and imagine my glee at discovering several articles on the benefits of putting Christmas decorations up early. Yes, early.

I suspect there will be as many hands clapping excitedly at that thought, as there are hands thumping tables while groans and mutters of "nooooooo" spout forth from the bah humbuggers among us.

Yes, I am a self-confessed lover of most things Christmassy. I always have been and, I suspect, I probably always will be. But before all the Scrooge impersonators turn the page, I ask you to bear with me, just a little longer.

You see, early Christmas lovers may well have something that the early Christmas deniers do not ... more happiness! I can't even begin to tell you how happy that discovery made me.

How does that work, I hear you ask? It seems there may be a couple of reasons. For many, nostalgia plays a part in this. Nostalgia around Christmas activities creates a link to childhood, a way to reconnect with what we perceive as simpler times. There weren't the adult worries many of us now associate with Christmas. It was exciting and there was a growing sense of anticipation as the build up culminated in Christmas Day.

As psychoanalyst Steve McKeown states: "In 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."

Putting up Christmas decorations early can extend that sense of excitement and nostalgia. When it comes to extending the excitement, count me in!

Of course, not everybody had a childhood they want to remember and many don't celebrate the holiday for whatever reason. I can understand why they might prefer to ignore Christmas and the trappings around it. Each to their own.

Another benefit, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, along with the potential for increased happiness is that your neighbours may interpret your putting up Christmas decorations as a sign that you are sociable and therefore more likeable. That can't be a bad thing.

So, apart from nostalgia, excitement and being considered more sociable there just might be some practical reasons for getting your decorations out early.

December can get crazy! Time can become very pressured with end of year work, school and group functions. There's Christmas shopping, planning for Christmas day (and that can be a whole stressor in itself) not to mention many of us having to plan and take our major holiday over that time. Getting the tree out (depending on whether you're a live or fake tree lover of course) and decorations up before all of the pressure kicks in might give you more time and make it a more enjoyable task. Create an event out of decorating, get the like-minded family members together or ask friends and neighbours around.

It might also motivate you to get shopping. Most of us hate cram-packed shops and malls. Once your tree is up, you may be inspired to start shopping early. If you start early enough, you can take your time and avoid some of that rushing around. There should be lots of good stock in the shops and you won't be left scrabbling for any old gifts on Christmas Eve.

Interestingly, Christmas music does not seem to fall into the same happiness spreading category as decorations. It can actually can have the opposite effect. Psychologist Linda Blair found Christmas music can be mentally draining if you're exposed to it over a long period of time. Many malls and stores start blasting Jingle Bells over the speakers in early November and by mid-November most people are sick of this forced Christmas cheer. Spare a thought for those working in retail over this period!

It is impossible to say exactly when you should begin hanging Christmas decorations. It really will be different for everyone. So remember, if somebody is telling you that it is too early to hang the decorations, you can tell them that science says it will make you happier (try not to be too smug about that though).

If you haven't dug out those boxes with all your decorations yet, it might be a good time to start.

Maybe just hold back on Santa's 101 Greatest Christmas Hits until December 1.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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