Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like ChristmasOkay, I admit it, I can’t get that darned song out of my head after Thanksgiving. There’s something about “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” that seems appropriate to put me into the Christmas spirit.

But then I have to stop at a store to buy something. And quickly my Christmas spirit dissipates as I’m enveloped by the never-ending barrage of Christmas displays, scents and music. Oh, the endless loops of Christmas music!

And I think to myself, “Who likes this stuff?”

Not surprisingly, the answer is, “Christians.” At least according to Schmitt et al. (2010) when they looked at the effects of Christmas displays on people’s well-being.

In an experiment that employed two studies, the researchers examined the effects of Christmas displays on the participants. Did such displays — which are commonplace everywhere you look from now until the end of the year — make people feel better or worse?

Fifty-two students were recruited to participate in the first study, 30 of whom were “celebrators” of Christmas. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions — complete a set of questionnaires about their mood and well-being in a cubicle with a small Christmas tree on the desk, or one without the tree.

People who celebrated Christmas reported a more positive mood in the presence of the Christmas tree than non-celebrators. It increased specific emotions measured, including self-assurance and joviality. However, celebrators also felt more guilt when in the cube with the Christmas tree.

Non-celebrators had a less positive mood while seated next to the Christmas tree.

To see whether Study 1 was potentially biased by its self-selection of “celebrators,” the researchers designed a separate study that specifically measured the same effects in three different religious groups of people — Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists. Sikhs and Buddhists don’t traditionally celebrate Christmas.

The 82 participants filled out the same sets of questionnaires that measured mood and well-being, and were once again randomly assigned to do so in a cubicle either with or without a Christmas tree.

Did the findings from Study 1 hold true?

Indeed they did. The researchers found that Christians had a greater sense of well-being and self-esteem when filling out the questionnaires in the presence of the Christmas tree:

When we examined more discrete emotions, we found that the presence of the Christmas display differentially affected self-assuredness and attentiveness. Importantly, the negative effect of the display on non-Christians’ self-assuredness and appearance self-esteem was mediated by reductions in their sense of inclusion.

Although Christians felt better in the presence of the display, inclusion did not differ by condition, and thus, the positive effect of the display for Christians cannot be explained in terms of it increasing feelings of inclusion.

Although effects were generally negative for non-Christians, both Christians and non-Christians reported that they expected the effect of the display to be positive.

In a nutshell, then, Christians are buoyed by Christmas displays, while non-Christians feel such displays exclude them:

Overall, our ļ¬ndings suggest that for people who do not celebrate Christmas, the presence of a Christmas display makes them feel less included in that context, and thus poses a threat to their sense of self.

Our identity directly impacts how we’ll perceive these kinds of holiday displays — and even unconsciously, can affect our mood. So next time you come back from the store, keep this in mind if you’re feeling less than in the “holiday spirit” and don’t celebrate Christmas. Science says you’re not alone!

But if you do go, note that you’ll rarely smell the scents of Christmastime that aren’t paired with Christmas music. That’s for a scientific reason too! Spangenberg et al. (2005) found that the presence of a Christmas scent with non-Christmas music in a store lowered the consumer’s evaluations of that store. Consumer’s evaluations of a store were highest at this time of the year when Christmas music was paired with Christmas scents.

And retailers wonder why so many shop online instead.


Schmitt, Michael T.; Davies, Kelly; Hung, Mandy; Wright, Stephen C. (2010). Identity moderates the effects of christmas displays on mood, self-esteem, and inclusion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Spangenberg, Eric R.; Grohmann, Bianca; Sprott, David E. (2005). It’s beginning to smell (and sound) a lot like Christmas: The interactive effects of ambient scent and music in a retail setting. Journal of Business Research, 58(11), 1583-1589.