Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

4 Ways the Festive Season Can Bring People Together

The holidays provide many ways to connect with friends, family, and strangers.

Key points

  • Our social connections are important, but we sometimes avoid them or miss opportunities.
  • Norms in December include reconnecting with people we rarely see and can overcome concerns that kindness will be misinterpreted.
  • Volunteering and donating to charities are ways to connect with people and communities.

After two years of disruption to plans over the festive season due to COVID-19, a new poll suggests spending time with loved ones is the aspect of the holidays that British people are most excited about this year. Having meaningful relationships and connections with others has vital benefits for our mental and even physical health all year round, and these might be particularly important during the winter months, which many people find difficult.

However, daily life can create barriers to connecting with other people—for example, if we are worried about being judged or are too busy to take time to be sociable. These barriers risk causing loneliness and isolation, a growing issue, particularly for older people. Can the norms and traditions associated with the festive season help overcome some of the barriers and encourage us to connect?

1. “See you next year.”

Saying someone is “off the Christmas card list” is a common phrase to say you won’t talk to someone ever again. Although this phrase is often used jokingly, it suggests sending someone a card or getting in touch with them at Christmas might be the one remaining point of contact each year. Similarly, events around Christmas at work or with family and friends might be the only time you see someone each year. This social norm, that it is OK to connect with people you haven’t spoken to in a long time, can be used to maintain relationships that would otherwise end altogether and could even be a starting point for more regular communication the following year.

Another related aspect is that the festive season falls at the end of the calendar year, and this may feel like a deadline to reflect on what we wanted to do during the year. Research shows having deadlines can help motivate us to invest effort, like organizing a social event, to achieve a rewarding goal such as reconnecting with friends.

 picjumbo/Pexels
Events during the festive season provide opportunities to strengthen and create relationships.
Source: picjumbo/Pexels

2. It’s the thought that counts.

One of the key ways we can connect with others and build relationships is through kind acts, and Christmas is certainly associated with generosity. However, results of the Kindness Test, a huge study by BBC Radio 4, found the most common reason for not being kind was a fear of the kind act being misinterpreted.

For example, the Christmas advert for one online retailer shows a new mother appreciating a gift that arrived with a note that it is from another new parent. The giver could have been concerned that this would be misinterpreted as suggesting the recipient was not coping and decided not to give it. Here, the widespread traditions of generosity, to give gifts or Christmas wishes to others, might help overcome these fears and provide confidence that a well-intentioned present or message will be appreciated, not misinterpreted.

3. Break the ice for positive interactions.

The fear of being judged or misinterpreted can also be a barrier to simply talking to other people, particularly strangers. In contrast, research shows that conversations with strangers or new people are often more enjoyable than people expect and are associated with happiness and well-being.

Some possible ways to maximize the chances of having a deeper and more positive conversation with someone new include asking open-ended questions, which prompt someone to give a longer answer, and sharing personal details. Perhaps the potential questions to ask around the winter break (“How are you spending the holidays?”) and how these link to personal aspects such as family traditions can improve our conversations. Noticing these positive interactions can remind us it is enjoyable to chat with new people, as well as those we already know.

 Any Lane/Pexels
Many people give gifts and charitable donations around Christmas.
Source: Any Lane/Pexels

4. It is the season for giving.

Starting conversations or sending cards and gifts are all ways we can connect with people we know or meet. The festive period can help us to feel connected with communities or people who are much farther away, through volunteering and charitable giving. Many charities run Christmas appeals, and data on donations show an increase in the number of people who give in November and December (although the increase in spending on alcohol during the festive period is much larger).

Some charities also sell gifts, ranging from ethical products that support their cause to donations in the form of an item for the charity, such as a goat or toilet. Selecting one of these donation gifts so it is also meaningful for the person you are giving it to—for example, school books for your friend who loves reading—is one way to maximize the positive impact of the gift for the recipient as well as the charity. Charities’ ability to sell these gifts also relies on people volunteering in their shops while others are doing their Christmas shopping.

Support for particular causes including homelessness shows the biggest increases in December, and many charities or shelters working in this area have opportunities for volunteering. Older people who are particularly likely to face loneliness at Christmas are also generally more willing to help others, particularly those in their country or community, so opportunities to volunteer and connect with others could be very significant.

References

Nitschke, J. P., Forbes, P. A. G., Ali, N., Cutler, J., Apps, M. A. J., Lockwood, P. L., & Lamm, C. (2020). Resilience during uncertainty? Greater social connectedness during COVID‐19 lockdown is associated with reduced distress and fatigue. British Journal of Health Psychology, bjhp.12485. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12485

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 10(2), 227–237. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691614568352

Emanuel, A., Katzir, M., & Liberman, N. (2022). Why do people increase effort near a deadline? An opportunity-cost model of goal gradients. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 151, 2910–2926. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0001218

Sandstrom, G. M., & Boothby, E. J. (2021). Why do people avoid talking to strangers? A mini meta-analysis of predicted fears and actual experiences talking to a stranger. Self and Identity, 20(1), 47–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2020.1816568

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014a). Is Efficiency Overrated?: Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 437–442. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550613502990

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014b). Social Interactions and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 910–922. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167214529799

Cutler, J., Wittmann, M. K., Abdurahman, A., Hargitai, L. D., Drew, D., Husain, M., & Lockwood, P. L. (2021). Ageing is associated with disrupted reinforcement learning whilst learning to help others is preserved. Nature Communications, 12(1), 4440. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24576-w

Cutler, J., Nitschke, J. P., Lamm, C., & Lockwood, P. L. (2021). Older adults across the globe exhibit increased prosocial behavior but also greater in-group preferences. Nature Aging, 1(10), 880–888. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43587-021-00118-3

advertisement