Making connections to each other is the core of human existence. Often, when these experiences are positive, bonds form. In most cases, the term “bonding” is applied to interactions between two or more people; however, “bonding” can also be applied to other circumstances and relationships. Children bond with toys, dogs bond with owners and, sometimes, people can bond with certain events which conjure up happy feelings, like the holidays and everything they symbolize.
People’s personalities are a result of various elements and life circumstances. There are numerous aspects to what makes us value the things we do. The human mind never stops growing and maintains the ability to be motivated, influenced, and expanded; however, unsurprisingly, studies have shown that most of our basic personalities form when we are small. And the earliest traditions we are taught to anticipate tend to be those we recall most frequently for the remainder of our lives.
Because holidays like Christmas are treated as a “special season” by adults, children get a sense of the goodwill and nearly “magical” optimism the time brings. As a result, holidays allow us to savor the things we overlook during other times of the year. For example, it has been proven that people who rarely give money to charity are still likely to donate a dollar to the Salvation Army members that stand on street corners throughout the month of December.
Now that the holiday season is upon us, traditions and bonding opportunities are fertile on both social and interpersonal levels. Decorating, cooking, listening to songs — and even shopping — are all opportunities for family and friends to enjoy the season together. Thus, if your family is fortunate enough to have a stable relationship, it is especially important to rejoice and celebrate.
Free to enjoy
In these trying economic times, many people find themselves short on cash, but that does not mean the season need be any less joyful. Singing Christmas songs, watching classic holiday films, and taking joy in the sight of pleasantly decorated establishments are seasonal delights which can be enjoyed for free.
On a social level, it is both kind and helpful to take some time to volunteer or donate to charities. Christmas is the season for giving, and there are many people in this world who are not as fortunate as others. The point of Christmas’ moral and ethical lessons is to think of those who are most vulnerable.
The basic messages behind both the biblical (religious) and fictional (Santa Claus) stories of Christmas are the virtuous elements of humanity: goodwill, kindness, caring, compassion, and giving. Thus, by learning to make more of an effort toward our fellow man during the holidays we — hopefully — retain some of that goodwill for the rest of the year. In this way, “being good” influences us to practice positive behaviors and rebuke those we know to be “naughty” or unsavory (hence Santa’s “naughty and nice” list). From earliest times, stories and character-driven legends (like Santa Claus) have been used to teach children, thus stimulating their cognitive capacity for behavior self-monitorization (“minding their manners”).
“Cognition” is the term we use to describe our mental processes; that is our ability to maintain attention, retain information, solve problems, and make decisions. Parents can observe cognition in action as their children grow. Understanding how and why we learn the way we do allows adults to instill the historic lessons and values within their children.
At the base of their purpose, traditions are a form of education about the past which lead to ensuring the future survival of a specific culture. For this reason, people feel compelled to pass on the traditions that they were taught in their families. Culture and traditions often hold special meaning for people because such events trigger memories and a sense of belonging within a certain society. Psychological research pertaining to bonding within interpersonal relationships suggests that reserving holidays has an overall positive impact on the human psyche. To put it in easy terms: if holidays are celebrated in a fun and positive way, they tend to be memorable.
Obviously, some traditions are cultural, such as decorating the tree or singing carols. However, some traditions are purely formed of family and, therefore, have individual value. Whereas traditions such as using firs as Christmas trees have gone back hundreds of years, every family has their own spin on the season.
On a personal note, I always enjoy going to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn to see the outlandish decorations. Likewise, my family always makes an effort to venture into Manhattan to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. As I got older, I started baking and handing out the treats to my family and friends. These small ceremonies are what make the season extra special since these are particular traditions, born of good experiences, which are special to me personally. Even in the scheme of widespread, group-like activities — such as holiday celebrations — there is always room for individual expression.
Why we exchange gifts
Of course, gift-giving is an aspect of Christmastime which cannot be ignored. Often, presents are a focal point of the season. Despite the increasing public outcry against aggressive marketing campaigns and over-commercialization of the season, getting presents is actually a very important part of the holiday.
For younger people especially, the experience of receiving presents is akin to developing a strong sense of worth, acceptance, and reaffirmation of love. Giving gifts also delivers the power of possibility. Every person can make a difference in another’s life, and by being taught to recognize the value of giving, people build a sense of social consciousness.
As a child, I enjoyed receiving gifts, but now I have more fun giving to others. I donate to charities, and I send gifts to my family overseas. I put a lot of thought into the presents I get for my parents. Seeing the joy on other’s faces, and knowing that I did something to improve their day, gives me a sense of delight. I contributed to making the world happier for those whom I most care for.
Furthermore, gifts serve as reminders of the people we love, since they are material symbols of the emotional bonds we have formed. Items and trinkets are like tiny shrines which we use to identify certain feelings. People put photos up in their homes for the same reason — the visuals allow us to reflect on the events or relationships which led to the acquiring of the image. Receiving gifts is actually important for children to feel that they are valued — a symbol of parental caring and affirmation that the child’s likes, wants, and needs were considered (such as following a list to ensure the desired items are bought).
All I want for Christmas
Interestingly, the legend of Santa Claus leads to a particular conundrum of idealisms within Western culture. In most cases, we teach our children to be humble. We teach them that it is inappropriate to ask for gifts from others. Yet, during the holidays, an exception is made, since during this time, gifts are expected. The story of Santa Claus reaffirms both the psychological and visual concept that making a list during the Christmas season is not only acceptable, but expected. The “time limit” of the season makes is it especially exciting to children, because they know this difference to society’s standards of acceptability only comes once a year. By allowing them to bond with the image of Santa — the portrait of a jovial kindness — children learn to bond with the holiday, and thus continue this strong sense of goodwill into adulthood.
Needless to say, Christmas is my favorite holiday. I get excited at its very prospect. I feel elated when I see the first signs of red-and-green decorations. I love Christmas for many reasons; mainly because it encompasses the best aspects of humanity, but also because I feel close to the season in general. I bonded with the traditions taught to me and therefore revel in the joys that the time of year has to offer. In conclusion, Santa Claus is very real, and alive and well, in the hearts of mankind. I hope that this is one tradition that shall never change.
Meagan J. Meehan is a published author and modern artist.