Driving into our neighborhood after a long weekend away, The Hubby screeched to a halt by the corner and gasped.
“Did we skip a holiday somewhere?” he asked, genuinely baffled.
One of our neighbors had put up the Christmas lights while we were gone, and they winked and blinked merrily in the early evening dark. Sure, they were pretty, and jolly and welcoming, but we were still 12 days away from Thanksgiving. I hadn’t even sent out the food assignments to relatives for turkey day.
“No,” I replied, “we didn’t skip anything. We just got through Halloween.”
Though the bright scene before us betrayed those words, I was nevertheless certain of our place on the calendar. Plenty of wrapped candy remained in the black spider bowl, and I was methodically making my way through the pile.
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. When a friend went to pick up last-minute treats for the dwindling number of kids who would ring her doorbell this past Halloween night, she was regaled with Christmas carols at the store. Boxes of tree ornaments filled the shelves, and wreaths sat next to bags of candy corn. The dissonance didn’t sit well with her.
In fact, it made her grumpy because all that forced cheer only served to remind her that she was behind on her shopping — for Thanksgiving dinner. “To everything there is a season,” she quoted.
Apparently not all the time nor for everyone. Some like to get a head start.
I just read about a study that suggests early Christmas decorators are cheerier than the rest of us. “Science Confirms People Who Decorate For Christmas Early Are Happier,” blares the headline. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Eager beavers, jolly elves, and all that. Plus if you start early, you likely get the best Christmas tree, the pick of the poinsettias and a scratch-off on the 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; only that decorations make others think the house residents are friendlier. (In the case of my aforementioned neighbors, this is absolutely true. They’re also the block’s best cookie-makers.) And since I’m nitpicking, like any good journalist would, that study, published in 1989 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, is ancient by our 21st century, breakneck-speed standards. Smartphones, social media and animated light shows didn’t exist back then, which leads me to believe that today’s early decorators may secretly want more posting days on Facebook and Instagram.
Nevertheless, media outlets are desperate for cheer at any price 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 sex, so these may be a viable alternative for those who don’t like to string lights. (Just saying.)
I know I’m sounding very Scrooge-like during a week where gratitude should reign supreme. In fact, the whining in my head is keeping time to the click-clack of my keyboard. So, in an effort to stop complaining, I’m listing all those things that make me thankful during this mad dash to the year-end finish line.
- Family. Even when they get on my nerves.
- Food. I can buy what I want when I want it.
- Work. Gives me pleasure and a sense of purpose.
- Freedom. There’s still plenty of it in our country.
- Faith. Couldn’t get through hard times without it.
And yes, friends and neighbors, who decorate early and better, who spread holiday cheer more enthusiastically and who push me, kicking and screaming, to be a better version of myself.