Driving home from town two weeks ago, we noticed one of our neighbours was outside starting on his outdoor Christmas display. We slowed down to have a look at what is always a pretty elaborate setup.
“Already?” came the question from the driver’s seat. “What’s the date today?”
Sure, they were pretty, and jolly and welcoming, but we were still more than a week away from American Thanksgiving. I hadn’t even put away my fall decorations yet, and I’m pretty there was still a Styrofoam pumpkin hanging around somewhere. We haven’t even made it through the leftover candy in the black spider bowl.
Still, early decorating shouldn’t come as a surprise, not at a time when holiday decorating has turned into a competitive sport of sorts. We’re decking the halls sooner and sooner every year. A few years ago, when I went to pick up some last-minute grub for trick-or-treaters, I was regaled with Christmas carols at the store, on October 31. Boxes of tree ornaments filled the shelves, and wreaths sat next to bags of Halloween candy. The dissonance didn’t sit well with me.
In fact, it made me quite grumpy because all that forced cheer only served to remind me how far behind I was on my shopping.
‘Tis only the season for some people, not for others. Some like to get a head start. I just read somewhere about a study that suggests early Christmas decorators are cheerier than the rest of us. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Eager beavers, jolly elves, all that stuff. Plus, if you start early, you’ll likely get the best Christmas tree, the pick of the poinsettias, and scratch off an item on your to-do list, all at once.
The truth of the matter, though, is that the study authors didn’t really claim early decorators are happier; their study only tested whether decorations make others think the house residents are friendlier. No one using the findings for holiday thought pieces is really reporting them accurately. And since I’m nitpicking, like any good quasi-journalist would, that original study, published in 1989 in a psychology journal, is ancient by our 21st century standards. Smartphones, social media, and animated light shows didn’t exist back then, which leads me to believe that many of today’s early decorators may secretly care more about having a few more days to post their work on Facebook and Instagram, than spreading Christmas cheer.
Nevertheless, media outlets are desperate for good news at any price (and who can blame them), and have thus resurrected the old findings. One quoted a psychologist who pointed out that Christmas decorations probably spike our levels of dopamine, the famously feel-good hormone. By the way, cuddling can also spike dopamine, as can a good sandwich, so these may be a viable alternative for those who don’t like to string lights. (Just saying.)
If I had to guess, I’d say that the number of people who decorate much earlier than the rest of us would probably be even higher were it not for that “is it disrespectful to decorate for Christmas before Remembrance Day” debate. It doesn’t apply to me since I would never want to look at decorations of any kind for more than a month, but I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing preventing a veritable flood of garland from washing us all away the first of November.
I know I’m sounding very Scrooge-like during a time of year where gratitude and good cheer should reign supreme. And actually, if I’m being honest, none of this really even applies to me. My decorating has taken a sharp turn since the kids got too old to want to help, so I replaced the tedium of spending hours decorating by myself, with the efficiency of what might stand alone as the greatest idea I’ve ever had: my fully-assembled, fully-decorated Christmas tree sits majestically in the corner of my basement year-round. When I get the twinge to decorate, all I have to do is carry it up the stairs and plop it in the corner.
I’m thankful, though, for friends and neighbours who decorate early and better, who spread holiday cheer more enthusiastically. They push me, kicking and screaming, to be a cheerier version of myself.