In case it wasn’t obvious from the explosion of decorations and the constant stream of holiday photos flooding your newsfeed, the holiday season is officially here. While the holidays can certainly be fun and festive, they are also a heavily emotional time for many, especially considering the love, laughter, and family gatherings missed last year.
But time marches on, and here we are, reconnecting with our relatives while watching our children grow up, and along the way, we carry with us the traditions we all hold dear. This season brings a renewed sense of merriment and an appreciation for family values. There is an undeniable feeling of nostalgia as we pass these customs down from generation to generation.
Whether it be gift-giving routines, favorite family foods, holiday decorations, pranks, seasonal songs, or even just the act of gathering together, there is much to celebrate and much to reflect on as we navigate the month of December and beyond. And embracing nostalgia is key.
In fact, nostalgia is really good for you, experts say. According to Krystine Batcho, Ph.D., a nostalgia expert, research suggests many psychological benefits of feeling nostalgic. “Nostalgic reminiscence helps a person maintain a sense of continuity despite the constant flow of change over time,” she explains. Reminiscing and feeling emotional over memories and family traditions isn’t only normal, but it’s healthy. It allows us to regain strength and resilience and tap into joy during tough times. It can help to “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,” Batcho told the American Psychological Association.
According to a 2015 paper published in the journal Emotion, nostalgia can help people feel connected to others and connected with the past in positive ways. Constantine Sedikides, a psychologist at the University of Southampton in England and the paper’s primary author, noted that nostalgia increased a sense of social connectedness and helped remind people of their social network that extends across places, people, and time. Tim Wildschut, one of Sedikides’s Southampton collaborators on the paper, explains that we naturally experience nostalgia on a regular basis, and it is essentially “a psychological immune response that is triggered when you experience little bumps in the road.”
So, when you get choked up during a holiday commercial or while flipping through old photo albums, smile and know that you are in a very emotionally healthy place.
Here are some simple and festive ways to embrace nostalgia this season.
Teach Your Kids to Cook a Family Recipe
Tap into your senses and find a delicious way to bond with relatives of all generations. Taste and smell are some of the best ways to evoke memories and help people feel connected. Whip up a family recipe, and if you are lucky enough to be around relatives of all ages, have a grandparent, or elder loved one, teach you and your children how to make a sentimental dish that has been in the family for years. Passing on that tradition and then enjoying a tasty meal together is the ultimate way to embrace nostalgia and make new memories at the same time. Plus, food!
Listen to Meaningful Songs Together
If you have a favorite song that you and your family or friends have always loved, especially this time of year, crank it up and sing along with your kids. We know that music these days is not like it used to be (and yes, we know that we sound like our parents when we say that), but some tunes are timeless, and classic holiday lyrics really ring true. And from a psychological standpoint, “nostalgic lyrics can engage the listener in reflection on who they once were and how they have arrived at their present self,” explains Dr. Batcho.
Modernize Old Routines and Make Them New
Some traditions from your childhood might not make much sense in today’s highly digital, fast-paced world. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon those traditions altogether; instead, modernize them, so they are appealing to family members of all ages. Instead of making a scrapbook or photo album, make a digital collage or family video. Swap hand-written cards for interactive digital holiday cards. Trade old-fashioned matching pajamas for personalized PJs. And some traditions are even better today – phone calls with relatives far away can be replaced with FaceTime calls or Zoom game nights, and watching holiday films can happen at the click of a button. And it’s undeniable that board games and relaxing by the fireplace never, ever go out of style.
Have Family Members Share Favorite Memories
The best way to embrace nostalgia is to do it in good company, so gather family members and have everyone share a favorite holiday memory or story. Share the memories with your kids and even record the stories in a book or virtual recording for posterity. Laugh at the absurdity of the past and cry about loved ones who are no longer here, but the important thing is you’ll be reminiscing together and passing on those stories for future generations to cherish.