Can We Feel a Holiday Spirit Effect in our Brains?

I enjoy the holidays and that spirit that you feel when walking through the stores, viewing decorations, hearing the music, and seeing all the fun lights. There is something about this season that is familiar, calming, enjoyable, and inspiring. I was thinking about brain regulation and the holidays and wondered if anyone has published any research connecting brain regulation to holiday traditions.

I found an article in December 2021 with some brain research about it. Here is a quote from that article on the website of Rhodes Wellness College.

A 2015 study suggests that there could be a “Christmas spirit” network in our brains, where certain areas of the brain respond to holiday-themed imagery (Hougaard et al., 2015). More specifically, this study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show participants Christmas-themed images alongside similar images that were not related to the holiday season (Hougaard et al., 2015). Participants were then asked a series of questions about Christmas and their associations with it, and these participants’ brain activation maps were then analyzed to identify what triggers their neurological sensations (Hougaard et al., 2015). The study ultimately found that the brain had numerous cortical regions forming a “Christmas spirit network”, where participants with positive associations to Christmas displayed much more psychological activity than those who didn’t (Hougaard et al., 2015).

We often speak of the difficulties of the emotions of the holidays since so many individuals have negative memories, usually from difficult family memories or losses during this season.  However, this 2015 research indicates that there can be a positive network in the brain where we respond to holiday imagery that stimulates the brain cortically.

I think this is interesting to understand for so many of us who have those positive memories. 

What’s more important is how we create those positive memories with our children and families. As a parent I want to leave wonderful memories for my kids that will last a lifetime. Creating holiday traditions has a significant impact on the brain when there is sensory stimulation happening around us that can evoke all kinds of emotions and feelings, either positive or negative.

As we enter these last few weeks of the holiday season, maybe we should be thinking about positive experiences and memories that we can create for those that we are close to. It could make a significant difference to how they perceive years of holiday seasons. What a great idea to create a, “Christmas Spirit” network in our brains that is filled with positive feelings, emotions, and memories that will last a lifetime! 

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