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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

In Celebration of Our Christmas Memories

The Christmas holidays are such a treasure trove of memories. The sights, the sounds, and the scents of Christmas have very accessible triggers for recall.  This year it might be the right time to talk about Christmases past – the ones that bring you joy – and give yourself a boost in how you feel about this past year and all the problems we are still facing.


There is actual science behind the nostalgia with Christmas past.  The use of functional MRI (fMRI) imaging has given us in depth information of what is going on in the brain while looking at certain images.  Evidence of Christmas cheer inside the brain was found during a study run at the University of Denmark in 2015.  A fMRI lights up parts of the brain when there is an increase or decrease in activity in the region of the brain under study.  And when there was an increase of activity for this study, that region lit up like a Christmas tree.


When participants saw photographs of Christmas themed images, a network of brain regions lit up, leading the researchers to conclude that they found the hub of Christmas cheer inside the human brain. What that activation really meant is still unknown.   One theory that was posited was that the network in the brain could be related to memories or spirituality.  Like all studies in neuroscience, the understanding of our internal experiences is changing, and it now seems likely that Christmas cheer may be an emotion.


Now specifically what happens when you feel a lot of emotion when remembering a Christmas past?  Memories can be very fleeting.  But when a memory is cued by emotion it becomes a certainty that the memory will be remembered in detail along with the emotions that are coupled with it. 

At Christmas time, each of us has associations with songs, foods, scents, and activities that label “Christmas Cheer” to categorize the experience.   These feelings and emotions are unique to each person.  Introducing someone to your Christmas traditions might not be met with as much enthusiasm as you have for the day.   It is not something to be upset about, but it should increase your understanding as to why you might be underwhelmed with someone else’s special memories.  And if you have had more negative Christmas experiences, you may not get the warm, fuzzy, and joyful feelings for the holiday.  You, however, have the power to increase your Christmas cheer or banish your feelings of ‘bah humbug’.   This phenomenon is known as prediction, and it is really a numbers game.  Your brain is continually running an internal model built around patterns of your previous experiences.  The more times your brain has a positive experience relating to Christmas, the easier it is for your brain to construct Christmas cheer on-demand in the future.


If you want to get into the spirit of Christmas spend some time remembering what experiences in the past brought joy to you.  Experience the same things today that made you happy years ago.  Your memories will start flooding in and your Christmas will be filled with holiday cheer. 



Robertson,O. (December 24, 2019). The neuroscience of the Christmas cheer ‘emotion’. Retrieved from




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