How many Christmas traditions have you fulfilled this year? Have you…
Watched A Christmas Story, Home Alone or It’s a Wonderful Life?
Listened to Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town or Mele Kalikimaka?
Exchanged presents under the Christmas tree?
Kissed under the mistletoe?
Sent or received Christmas cards?
Decorated with lights or wreaths or snowmen?
War an ugly Christmas sweater?
Hung stockings by the chimney?
Christmas is the ultimate rerun. It’s the holiday equivalent of binge watching old episodes of Seinfeld. (By the way, Happy Festivus.)
Research finds that our brains crave reruns. According to a study in Scientific American:
Sometimes choosing to do something again was about reaching for a sure thing — the brain knows the exact kind of reward that it will receive in the end, whether it is laughter, excitement or relaxation. They also learned that people gained insight into themselves and their own growth by going back for a do-over, subconsciously using the rerun or old book as a measuring stick for how their own lives had changed.
Christmas present makes us think about Christmas past, creating nostalgia for how things used to be simpler or showing us how we’ve changed and grown.
Chuck Klosterman has a theory that nostalgia is created simply by repetition. Nostalgia gets triggered, he says, by something like a song or a TV show when we know it backwards and forwards. He frames nostalgia as a profound knowledge of a work of art.
Klosterman also argues that in our rapidly changing culture, we now have fewer cultural touchstones to feel nostalgia for. If you discover a song in your Spotify discover weekly playlist, for example, it will quickly be replaced by a new song before you can listen to it enough to invoke nostalgia in the future.
“The idea of accidentally creating a false sense of nostalgia though inadvertent-yet-dogged repetition? That’s ending, and it’s not coming back,” Klosterman wrote in 2011, for a website that’s gone and it’s not coming back.
So holidays might be one of the few things left that we experience repetitively enough to produce and evoke nostalgia.