By Paul Lambis
With the holiday season upon us, and as the year draws to a close, festive feelings of love, generosity and sentimental sharing often translate to irrational consumer-buying decisions, annoying holiday music, dysfunctional family gatherings, unhealthy binge eating.
Christmas is, without a doubt, my favourite time of the year, especially as we live on a Mediterranean island such as Cyprus that is ideal for outdoor winter barbeques, relaxing around a warm fireplace and dashing up the mountains for a touch of snow (maybe).
However, there are certain things we cannot escape at Christmastide such as the unavoidable shopping experience. Although it seems obvious, retail outlets position their campaigns earlier every year to capitalise on consumer sentiment and maximise profit – a phenomenon known as Christmas Creep. Shopping malls become overcrowded with consumers battling for the right-sized turkey, trendy toys, best tech gadgets, clothes, sweet treats, and the impractical gifts that elicit a cheerful nostalgia upon purchase yet serve no real purpose.
The holidays have a tendency of making us spend more than we can afford, but the shopping joyride would not be complete without the same 20 Christmas melodies that blare repeatedly through the loudspeakers of every store, each one progressively worse than the last. Holiday music may, at first, evoke feelings of nostalgia and put one in the mood for the holidays. However, hearing Mariah Carey, Michael Bublé, Wham, and all those kitsch Christmas pop songs of decades past on repeat can lead to irritation, boredom, and even distress, according to researchers. “There is a U-shaped relationship between how often we hear a song and how much we like it, what is known as the mere-exposure effect,” says Victoria Williamson, PhD, who conducts research on the psychology of music at Goldsmiths, University of London. “Endless loops of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer or any tinsel-y tune can have a psychological impact.”
While social media posts reflect a tremendous sense of uplift and enthusiasm in the run-up to the holidays, one cannot help but notice the strained family dynamics that are frequently highlighted during the season of joy. The family, togetherness, food and the giving and receiving of gifts, all contribute to the ‘wonderful time of the year’ concept, however the season can also highlight the loss of the ideal family and relationships that are not perfect, inspiring feelings of loneliness and melancholy.
Families can never be perfect. Every one will experience challenges, trials, character deficiencies, and more. Whether a scapegoat, often cast aside and blamed for other people’s problems, a caretaker – the enabler or martyr who attempts to keep everyone within the family happy, a high functioning, well-balanced ‘hero’ who the family points to as a solid example, or a mascot who uses humour to distract from serious issues, there will never be a dull moment at the Christmas table.
Just as misery loves company, so does indulgence. Emotional eating is a big cause of holiday bingeing. Healthy eating habits fall apart as we gorge ourselves in one sitting and loosen the belt buckles directly after as one’s body deals with the effects of too much food.
When it comes to home entertainment, the streaming services are a one-stop-shop for Christmas classics, and an abundance of poorly executed festive specials with bad premises and celebrity has-beens who are desperate for the spotlight.
Let’s face it. There is only one thing we all want to do at Christmas, and that is eat our body weight in kourabiedes, melomakarona, mince pies and stuffed turkey, while watching reruns of It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually and Die Hard – the ultimate Christmas movie.
Incidentally, a fierce debate is raging over as to whether Die Hard is a Christmas film. The 1988 action-packed movie is set during the holiday period – in fact, on Christmas Eve itself. Bruce Willis might not have the snowy London scenes with Hugh Grant and friends, or the feel-good message of Miracle on 34th Street, however, the sweat and tears of the film are more reminiscent of the experience of festive shopping, than the joy of Christmas itself.
In celebration of Santa’s impending arrival, I have invested in an artificial, eco-friendly tree, fluffed, and shaped the branches to make it look fuller and more natural, untangled the lights, hung up the baubles and sentimental decorations, wrapped the presents – including some useless kitchen gadget my other half believes will spread a little joy to all the female members of our tribe, updated my Netflix subscription, downloaded Spotify’s Christmas playlist, and extended an invitation to the family for our annual Christmas lunch. All that remains, is to see whether I have been naughty or nice.