December 2, 2019
There is nothing like holiday music to immediately put me in the holiday spirit! For me, that means Christmas, with its cultural and religious celebrations, bookended by Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The best way to describe this holiday mood seems to be the term nostalgia, and nostalgia can definitely be bittersweet. It seems to peak around the holidays and it is universal: it crosses cultures, age and economic demographics, and historical periods.
Why does holiday music immediately make some of us happy, and why does it annoy others? Learn more about both the bitter and sweet of nostalgia, with psychologist Dr. Krystine Batcho.
With us today from Syracuse, NY, is nostalgia expert Dr. Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in New York. She is a regular expert contributor on the Psychology Today website. Her scholarly publications have been widely cited, and she is frequently interviewed by the media on topics of current interest.
- Peak years for nostalgia= early adulthood (lot of significant changes=psychological assault on that sense of identity at that time —go off to college, start their jobs, get married)
- Even a child as young as four years old can be nostalgic.
Benefits of nostalgia:
- Continuity/identity/grounding: helps people maintain a constant sense of who they are. Helpful if something traumatic occurs; sense of nostalgia helps link you to your own personal past; it helps you remember who you have been.
- Relationships/feel connected: nostalgia helps us maintain connections, sense of belonging.
- Unifying: We feel connected to a past and to other people across time & cultures, it is a uniting phenomenon. People of faith experience unity in the beliefs celebrated during this time.
- Salve: everything about the holidays centers around relationships. In a way, holidays bring together people when they cannot be together. Nostalgia is almost like a psychological substitute for the real thing (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”=helps re-unite us across time and space); good memories re: time spent with deceased help us to cope with loss.
- Nostalgia promotes charitable intentions and behavior
Bittersweet: If your response to holiday music is primarily negative/bitter rather than sweet, identify where your irritation comes from. It could bring reminders of unhappy Christmases past; it could signify the anniversary of a loss; it could be satiation (hearing the same songs ad nauseum). Then consider the following tips:
- Find holiday music you do like or can learn to like. Start a new holiday music tradition. Consider recent holiday albums by Sarah McLachlan, Ingrid Michaelson, John Legend.
- Redemptive qualities: Dr. Batcho describes how to look for the personal growth opportunities, ways to move forward, in both the bitter and the sweet. Negative, bitter feelings can be incredibly helpful. Research shows nostalgia strongly correlates with optimism and hope.
- The holidays facilitate reaching out to others, which has been shown to be one of the best ways to counter depression, isolation, loneliness.
Dr. Batcho invites us to take advantage of the holidays to remember holiday music we loved when younger, and then reflect on them.
- Why did you love those songs so much?
- Can you recapture the feelings you had then?
- What did they mean to you then, and what do they mean to you now?
- How is that meaning part of who you have become?
- Revive that meaning to discover your authentic self and move forward.
Then, connect your personal experience of holiday music with its social meaning. Holiday music has a special ability to unite people. Like nostalgia, it counteracts loneliness and reweaves the threads that keep us a part of the greater social circle.
Connect with the ones important to you (family, friends, community). Share favorite holidays songs and the memories they trigger.
Listeners can connect with Dr. Batcho and her work in any of the following ways:
- Why We Feel Nostalgic During the Holidays (Live Science article)
When I was young, people went from home to home singing Christmas carols. I can still hear the bell ringing that heralded their coming. I remember three generations of carolers all bringing joy to everyone. One carol they always sang was “Heaven and Earth.”
Every holiday our family sang holiday songs together. As the years passed and we lost family members, the circle became smaller and smaller. Now, memories of those family sessions keep our loved ones alive and remind us that they are part of who we have become. Your listeners can create their own legacy by passing a tradition on to the next generation.