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How to put the "effervescence" back into the festive season

The last two Christmases have been stressful, with COVID lockdowns, rising infection rates and loss of loved ones getting very close to home. Loss of freedom, having travel plans cancelled because of COVID and many people losing their jobs and loved ones have contributed to many of us having not-so-festive-seasons.

Research has shown that celebrating Christmas can be good for your mental health because it encourages people to be more caring, show more goodwill and generosity towards others. Evidence also shows that the traditions and memories that we have collected over the years can go a long way to making us feel connected and happy again. Emile Durkheim, a famous sociologist, called this feeling of shared joy “collective effervescence”, and the feeling that brings us back together, making us feel like we belong to the larger group (8). And it isn’t just about Christmas, it is any occasion where we share joy with others (9). Research has also shown that we feel more connected to others over the Christmas season, because of the sense of cohesion which is brought about by the smells, and family activities and rituals that remind us of good times which we have had at past Christmases (8).

One strategy you can use to get back the festive feelings that have dwindled due to the restrictions and losses that we have felt over the past couple of years could be to put up your Christmas tree and go to carols by candlelight. There are a number of these activities taking place outdoors, so you can enjoy yourself while observing COVID protocols and staying safe. Rituals and routines give us feelings of control and structure, which in turn reduce anxiety and depression (10). Since COVID, we South Africans have not felt much in control and a great number of South Africans have been anxious and depressed because of this (11; 12). Putting up a tree is a family activity that can bring a great deal of laughter and joy, which in turn will build a good memory for the family to remember in tough times.

Helping others makes you feel as good as getting gifts (13), and there is research to prove that we already have the keys to happiness (14) in our hands. We can do this by giving. This festive season do something for others, who may need somebody to show that they care.

  • Think of helping your favourite charity in some way. Money is tight this year. Petrol has increased, people have lost their jobs, and the economy is limping along. There is nothing stopping you from getting behind your favourite cause and giving back a little to make someone else’s Christmas a little brighter. And it doesn’t have to cost anything but time. Ask them what they need you to do. Take the children, so that they learn the true meaning of Christmas.

  • Volunteer to take an older person (or two) out to lunch during your holiday. Or take lunch to a group of older people who rarely get visitors. Transport limitations and isolation during lockdowns at old age homes left many older people depressed and isolated (15).

  • You could become a Secret Santa to a child whose parents may be unemployed at this time of the year.

Speak to the pastor of your local church to find some ideas, and keep it confidential, remember that people are proud, and don’t want their privacy to be undermined. Remember, it is not about money, or about anyone knowing. It is about giving and knowing that you have made a difference and a memory for someone that they will treasure. And if you get a wonderful feeling in return, well - isn’t giving what Christmas is all about?


1. Ahmed, Nilufar. Why celebrating Christmas is good for your mental health. The Conversation. [Online] 2020.

2. Ritual, collective effervescence and the categories: Towards a neo-Durkheimian model of the nature of human consciousness, feeling and understanding. Throop, Jason and Laughlin, Charles D. 1, s.l. : Journal of Ritual Studies, 2002, Vol. 16, pp. 40-63.

3. Watson-Jones, Rachel and Legare, Christine. The Social Functions of Group Rituals. Current Directions in Psychological Science. [Online] 2018.

4. Brooks, Alison, et al. Don't stop believing: Rituals improve performance by decreasing anxiety. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes. [Online] 2016.

5. IOL. Covid-19 pandemic led to stark rise in depressive and anxiety disorders. Weekend Argus. [Online] 10 2021.

6. Naik, Sameer. Mental Health of South Africans continues to worsen during Covid-19 pandemic. Saturday Star. [Online] Jan 2021.

7. AllHealthMatters. Health Chatter: Why doing good makes you feel good. AllHealthMatters. [Online] 2021.

8. Loyd, Robin. The Keys to Happiness, and Why We Don't Use Them. LIVESCIENCE. [Online] 2006.

9. Loneliness and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hwang, Tzung-Jeng, et al. s.l. : International Psychogeriatrics, Vol. 26, pp. 1-4.

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