Christmas tree corpses litter the streets, the streets are uninviting, and it feels like we haven’t seen sunlight since… well, since last year. Yup, January truly is the season to be miserable – but it doesn’t have to be. Here, Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray explains why we should all defy superstition and keep our Christmas lights strung up all winter long.
Updated on 4 January 2021: There’s no getting around it, January is the absolute pits.
It’s cold – so cold we’re wearing hats, gloves and scarves in our living rooms (yes, we’re still working from home: thanks a lot, Covid-19). It’s oppressively dark – the sort of dark that makes you feel as if you’re trapped inside the bleak landscapes of a Scandi noir drama. The constant deluge of bills has burned through our paltry post-Christmas bank balances with all the ferocity of a blaze tearing through dry bracken. And women are constantly being reminded of all the ways they need to be better (don’t think we haven’t noticed all of those sexist diet ads masquerading as cheery ‘New Year, New You’ sentiments, folks).
So it’s understandable that the faint twinkle of goodwill vibes we felt over the festive period, which somehow still blossomed in spite of the many last-minute lockdown restrictions we faced, have dissipated into something more akin to a mere ambivalence for our fellow human beings. Or, depending how many people you spy wandering the aisles of the local Co-Op without face masks on, pure and unadulterated hatred.
Thankfully, though, there’s a solution for all those brave enough to do (metaphorical) battle with an age-old superstition that’s plagued our lives for as long as we can remember.
That’s right: we need to keep our Christmas lights up.
Now, if your mum is anything like mine, she’s no doubt been bombarding you with not-so-subtle reminders to take down your festive decorations since New Year’s Eve. These begin casually (and ambiguously) enough: “Don’t forget 5 January,” she’ll breezily sign off on the phone, confident you’ll know exactly what she means.
As the days tick by, though, the messages become increasingly more frantic, with dire warnings of impending bad luck – until you’re essentially informed that the fate of the world (and humanity’s continued existence) rests in your hands.
Once upon a time, I would have believed her: after all, I’m the sort of person who avoids walking under ladders, salutes lone magpies with all the discipline and preciseness of a member of the Queen’s Guard, and shrieks in horror if anybody dares to open an umbrella indoors. But, considering the myriad of horrors we all experienced in 2020, I really don’t think one stray Christmas light is going to make all that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Instead, the world will continue to swivel on its axis, as it always has. Covid-19 has already mutated in a big way, after all, so nobody can blame me and my lazy approach to ‘undecorating’ for that. And, to be honest, I doubt I’d even notice if my life spiralled off down a despair-addled spiral of bad luck at this point. Seriously.
This year, I’ve been spending my darker evenings walking around the block (I’m in Tier 4, after all: there’s little else to do) and marvelling at the neighbours’ Christmas decorations. At the fairy lights twinkling in gardens, at the (fake) snow-covered Christmas trees in the windows, at the homemade efforts of all those who took part in the local advent calendar trail.
And you know what? I always come away feeling happier as a result, too.
This should come as little surprise, though, as, according to environmental and design psychologist Dr Sally Augustin, Christmas decorations really do have the power to boost our moods.
As reported on 1 January 2018: Speaking to the Mail Online, Augustin explains that this is due to an evolutionary response that harks back to our earliest ancestors.
“We like to think we’re so different from animals, but we are actually very responsive to our senses,” she says.
“Developing on the savanna, where our current sensory systems developed, when we would see warm light, it was often a campfire at the end of the day, signalling cooking and positive experiences.”
As a result, Dr Augustin argues that we’ve evolved so that “our eyes and neural networks developed in tandem in a way that creates positive associations with warmer light” – which, in turn, creates a better and more relaxed mood.
“When we experience warmer coloured lights, candlelight or light from warmer bulbs, it puts us in a more positive mood, which is great for getting along with others,” she adds.
It all links back to Hygge, that viral lifestyle trend that saw everyone rushing out to buy candles, cashmere blankets, giant cushions, and woolly socks back in 2016.
“Hygge is the sensation of familiarity, of being seen and recognised, and feeling at home,” explains Marie Tourell Søderberg in her book, Hygge, The Danish Art of Happiness.
“You experience it when you are able to be fully present in the moment, and feel content and at ease. Hygge often happens when you are together with the people closest to you, your nearest and dearest; people with whom you can be open and sincere with, where you don’t have to pretend to be anything besides who you are.”
In short, it’s all about enjoying the environment around you, and transforming personal spaces into sanctuaries that you can sink into at any moment – and lighting is a big part of that.
“To make the lighting hyggelig it is important to have several lamps with warm, slightly orange, light around the room, making pools of light – small light caves where you can immerse yourself in your work,” explains Søderberg.
“A good working lamp on the table would be a lamp where the shade covers the bulb so the light falls directly onto the papers and work on the table, and doesn’t shine directly into the eyes, which is neither good for the concentration and nor for the hygge.”
So, no, you may not want to leave your Christmas tree up (it’s big, it’s bulky and it’s now shed so many pine needles that you may as well have shoved a stick into a pot of dirt). And, no, the tinsel and Christmas cards may not feel quite right either – no matter how sweet and sentimental the messages scrawled inside them may be.
Your fairy-lights, on the other hand? They are serious stuff, equipped with super mood-boosting powers, and they should be revered all bloody year round.
Plus, doesn’t it feel more comforting to walk home in the dark with fairy-lights dancing in the windows you pass on the way? Doesn’t your heart swell two sizes bigger each time you walk through the door and switch on your own, so that they glimmer prettily in the background of all your mundane household activities? (For example: making toast? Magical. Hoovering the living room? Magical. Washing the dishes? Mag… you get it.)
Essentially, the world feels like a better place when it’s all lit up.
With that thought in mind, I say we stick two fingers up at superstition (and our electric bills) by keeping that festive spirit alive for as long as possible – who’s with me?
Main image: Ander Burdain/Unsplash
All other images: Getty
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