Some people go home for the holidays hoping just to survive, burying their attention in their phones or football to avoid conflict with relatives. Yet research now suggests that is the incorrect idea. Family rituals, of any form, can save a holiday, making it well worth the effort of getting everyone together in the same room.
Some research has shown that people who practiced collective rituals compared with people who did not perform them, felt closer to their families, which made the holidays more interesting and in turn, made the holidays more enjoyable. Most surprisingly, the types of rituals that people described in the research, such as family dinners with special foods, religious ceremonies, and watching the ball drop in Times Square, did not have a direct bearing on enjoyment. But the number of rituals did! Apparently, having family rituals makes the holidays better and the more, the merrier.
During the holiday season, it is natural to feel a longing for times gone by, such as a childhood spent singing carols or meals spent with now departed loved ones. Recently, scientists have explored the bittersweet feeling of nostalgia and found that it serves a positive function by improving our mood and possibly our mental health. The researchers found that nostalgia boosted self-continuity by increasing a sense of social connection. Sentimental recollections, looking at photographs, cooking certain meals, sharing stories or playing music, often include loved ones, which can remind us of a social web that extends across people and across time.
If you are feeling a bit discombobulated over the holidays, pull out a photo album and spend some time revisiting your past and take the time to engage with family and friends over your favorite and treasured holiday rituals.