1. Life & Culture

Christmas decorations up early? Experts say that’s good for you.

It’s been a rough year. Bring on the Hallmark movies and holiday pajamas.

Leeann Doan’s family usually puts up Christmas decorations the week before Thanksgiving. That way, they return from Turkey Day travels to a home already filled with Christmas cheer.

Luka Doan, 2, hangs an ornament on the family Christmas tree. “It just makes me so excited that he can understand this year what it all means," said his mom, Leeann.
Luka Doan, 2, hangs an ornament on the family Christmas tree. “It just makes me so excited that he can understand this year what it all means," said his mom, Leeann. [ Courtesy of Leeann Doan ]

But this year, the Doans decked the halls even earlier. Over the weekend, the Riverview family set up their stockings, trimmed the entertainment center with garland and assembled both Christmas trees — a main one in the living area and a tabletop tree in the dining room. It’s extra special now that 2-year-old Luka is starting to get the idea of holidays.

It feels good to think about Christmas after months of a pandemic world, even if some are opposed to leapfrogging over Thanksgiving.

"We can still eat turkey with the Christmas tree up,” said Leeann Doan, 31.

“This year, with the way everything is going, why not just find joy where you can?”

Sure, stores always have Christmas items up before Halloween. But the warped sense of time in 2020 inspired a head start on holiday celebrations at home, too.

Of course, there are the traditional holiday purists.

“We should be looking at what we have to be thankful for this year,” said Michael Lortz, 43, of Tampa. “Let’s not skip Thanksgiving.”

“No Christmas decorations, no merchandise in stores, no music on the radio,” wrote reader Rexford Henderson on Facebook. “Nothing until the Monday following Thanksgiving.”

But Dr. Ryan Wagoner, vice chairman for clinical services at USF Health Psychiatry and Behavior Neurosciences, said he isn’t surprised that others are going full speed ahead into holiday cheer mode.

“There hasn’t been a lot of things to reward our brains recently,” he said.

Humans gravitate toward experiences that feel good, like seeing family members and getting gifts, Wagoner explained. They also love routine — something that has been disrupted during this unpredictable year.

Holidays combine both of those things.

“It’s almost a routine of feeling good,” Wagoner said. “Anytime that someone can maintain a degree of normalcy, they’re going to reach out for that.”

The joy of holidays may feel especially good after months of being told to stay home. While social distancing and other responsible behaviors are vital to keep people safe, Wagoner explained that the benefits from these actions — not getting sick or not passing along a deadly virus to others — do not trigger a release of dopamine or activate the reward centers in the brain.

“You have something like Christmas lights, being with family, singing songs or giving gifts or any of your traditions, those are things that kind of provide this reward in your brain,” Wagoner said.

That’s all great, but Wagoner encourages people to continue the new traditions learned in the pandemic — healthy habits like hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing. We’re still in the midst of a health crisis, he said.

And while having things to look forward to can be healthy, he also says holiday enthusiasts should be wary of lofty expectations.

“Don’t build it up to be something that this is going to make up for all of 2020," he said. If the holiday doesn’t live up to expectations, the letdown could bring you down, Wagoner said.

To avoid the dreaded post-holiday slump, he recommends scheduling little things to look forward to after the holidays, such as ordering takeout or seeing someone you haven’t in a while.

Wagoner also recommends keeping an open mind about festivities this year. You may have to wear masks, keep your distance or limit the activities you might do normally.

Trisha Jamo’s family has had to cancel some of their annual events, like participating in the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot and a neighborhood brunch that typically follows the event.

But the Clearwater family already started savoring the traditions that are still pandemic-proof — like binge-watching Hallmark Christmas movies together. Despite the corny dialogue and predictable plot lines, the films are something Jamo always enjoys with her husband and 15-year-old daughter.

“They’re all really good,” said Jamo, 40.

Thomas Jamo, Trisha Jamo and Riley Jamo during their 2019 Thanksgiving celebration.
Thomas Jamo, Trisha Jamo and Riley Jamo during their 2019 Thanksgiving celebration. [ Courtesty of Trisha Jamo ]

Hearing holiday music already playing on Mix 100.7 was the last push she needed to shift into merriment mode. She spent the weekend shopping for Christmas pajamas at Old Navy with her daughter. If the local tree tent was open for business, she’d have bought one already.

“Tomorrow’s not promised,” she said. “And we only have a few more years where our daughter’s living at home with us and then things will change.”

In between the pandemic, the election, Jamo’s job loss earlier this year and shifting their daughter to virtual school, the family is ready to celebrate something.

“We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible," she said. "Especially surrounding the holidays.”