Are you longing for Christmas past? ‘Tis the season for reminiscing, after all. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the good old days and an old-fashioned Christmas, you’re not alone. But is all that nostalgia good for you?
The sights and sounds of the holiday season can reawaken memories and relationships, according to nostalgia expert Krystine Batcho, PhD, a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. Getting in touch with family and old friends reminds us of special times.
“Holidays may bring back memories of simpler times along with the sense of the security of childhood or the carefree feelings of being young, with fewer of the worries and stress that accompany responsibilities,” says Dr. Batcho. “Most often, holidays remind us of people who have played important roles in our lives and the activities we shared with them. This is one reason why people who are away from home are especially likely to feel nostalgic during the holidays and why so many people travel to be with family and friends.”
So holiday nostalgia is a good thing?
In an interview with the American Psychological Association (APA), Dr. Batcho explains that nostalgia can, indeed, be good for us.
“Nostalgic reminiscence helps a person maintain a sense of continuity despite the constant flow of change over time. It is reassuring to realize how rich our lives have been – how much joy, hard work, success and excitement we have experienced. During difficult times, attention to our past can strengthen us by reminding us of how we survived challenges, loss, injury, failure or misfortune in the past. When we are sad or discouraged, it can be uplifting to remember that we are still the person who had been happy, strong and productive at times in our past.
Our sense of who we are is closely related to how we see ourselves in relation to others. Research has shown that nostalgia can strengthen a sense of social connectedness by helping us appreciate what we have meant to others as well as what others have meant to us. Nostalgia can help a person cope with loneliness by enhancing the sense of social support that comes from knowing that each of us is someone’s daughter or son, mother or father, sister or brother. Nostalgic memories can help someone who is away from home or someone who is mourning the death of a family member by reminding us that the bonds we share with those we love survive physical separation.”
Do we remember things the way they really were…and does it matter?
We don’t always remember the intricate details of experiences from long ago, but we do remember the emotions we felt at the time, according to Dr. Batcho. Strong feelings remain with us over time despite fuzzy details, and it’s those emotions that really matter.
Let the Jingle Bells Rock
Dr. Batcho: “Music is especially evocative of emotion. Nostalgic song lyrics engage the listener in reverie and capture the bittersweet feeling of the past’s irretrievability. Some nostalgic song lyrics describe happy memories. For example, the country song, “Young,” recounts joyful experiences that typify the exuberance of youth. Not all nostalgic songs are happier than other songs; sometimes they remind us of loss. Songs such as “Those Were the Days” and “Yesterday” focus on how the passage of time inevitably brings changes in youthfulness, vigor and the carefree innocence not yet jaded by the mistakes, difficulties and painful aspects of life. But the distinctive bittersweet affect characteristic of nostalgia can transform the sense of loss into a positive appreciation of how much we have enjoyed, how much we have survived and, most importantly, how much we have loved and have been loved.
Whether the emotional tone of a song is happy or sad, nostalgic lyrics can engage the listener in reflection on who they once were and how they have arrived at their present self. Whether secular or religious, by connecting us to a shared tradition, holiday music can renew our sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. By reminding us of events, customs, beliefs or rituals, holiday music can help us feel connected to others, even during times of stress or loneliness.”
I can’t help it. Every year nostalgia dictates that I must watch It’s a Wonderful Life and at least one version of A Christmas Carol, if not two. And I can’t get enough of the “Jingle Bell Rock.” They remind me of when my kids were little and Christmas was filled the exuberance of youth. Ah, those were the days. Yes, I do enjoy a bit of holiday nostalgia and yes, it does make me feel good.
Here’s to the memories…
Image credit: iStockPhoto.com