We all have them: Those neighbors who always have their holiday decorations up and sparkling before the Thanksgiving turkey is even cold. Sure, the tinsel and twinkling lights are nice. But is it really the right time? Do they know something we don't?
Well, science says yes. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, psychologists say that those of us who plan to decorate our homes for the holidays should probably start sooner in the season. It can improve our mood, they say, by reducing stress and by extending the amount of time that we enjoy our festive bulbs and baubles.
Anticipation vs. Anxiety
First and foremost, anyone who wants to trim their home with holiday wreaths, trees and more may sidestep the stress of rushed preparations by decorating well in advance. “A lot of people do just keep putting things off,” says Elaine Rodino, a psychologist practicing in State College, Pa. “They always feel they don't have time to do it until they're really under a lot of pressure to do it. But it would be nice to do it earlier, so that they don't put that pressure on themselves.”
In addition to avoiding last-minute panics, displaying decorations sooner in the season may bring psychological benefits of its own. Festive furnishings certainly amp up anticipation for the holidays and can cause people to feel more enthusiasm for their coming celebrations with friends and family. They can also create feelings of nostalgia and recall past holiday fun. “Of course, decorating earlier is extending the holiday season, bringing the person more happiness,” Rodino says.
Furthermore, decorating earlier can foster feelings of community and provide people with more chances to create social connections. Though this research is in relatively short supply, past studies suggest that people perceive the families that decorate their homes during the holidays as friendlier. “Decorating earlier, especially if you're doing outdoor decorations … connects you with your community,” says Pauline Wallin, who works as a psychologist in Camp Hill, Pa. “As you're doing your decorating, you probably think about other people who are going to enjoy it besides yourself.”
Decorating the Blues Away
Plus, for anyone facing feelings of sadness and depression during the holidays, decorating sooner could counteract that state of mind. According to the concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy, participating in fun and seemingly frivolous activities can sometimes turn your attitude around. “If you're in a bad mood or if you're sad or if you haven't had a great year, it can put you back in touch with pleasant memories,” Wallin says. “It helps you focus on positive things.”
This may come as validating news to the many individuals who already decorate their homes early in the season. And there are many. Among those who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in the U.S., 72 percent adorn the interior of their homes and 43 percent embellish the exterior, according to a survey conducted by data analytics company YouGov earlier this month. Among these decorators, approximately 80 percent reported that they typically put their decor up prior to December 1.
While sprucing up the home with holiday trimmings sooner rather than later may provide positive impacts for many, specialists stress that no one should feel forced to decorate in the first place. “Those people that do not have good memories usually don't make a big deal about the holidays. They don't want to decorate, and that's fine,” Rodino says. “Although it's okay to encourage someone to do the things they used to do when not depressed, it’s not good to be forceful about this encouragement.”
All in all, psychologists advise participating in the activities that make you happiest during the holidays. “Do it your way,” Rodino says.