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Can Christmas decorations be psychologically harmful?

November 30, 2010
by Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.
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Simon FraserUniversity, examining how Christmas displays effect people’s well-being, was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology . The study based on an honors thesis was conducted by Michael Schmitt, Kelly Davies, Mandy Hung, and Stephen Wright.

In the first of two experiments, students were first divided into two groups—those who said they celebrated a Christmas and those who did not. The students were then asked to complete questionnaires about their mood and sense of well-being. The students were then randomly assigned to completed the task in either study cubicles, which had a small Christmas tree on the desk or those that did not. When the Christmas tree was present, students who celebrated Christmas reported more self-assurance and joviality and generally a more positive mood than students who did not celebrate Christmas. The non-celebrating students consistently reported a less positive mood in the cubicle with Christmas tree.

A second experiment studied the same effects among three different religious groups; Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists. All the groups said they expected that the display would enhance good feeling. The results, however, indicated that while Christians reported a greater sense of self-esteem and well-being when the tree was present, for non-Christians, the results were negative.

The study indicated that Christians and those who celebrated Christmas are positive influenced by Christmas decorations in terms of mood and sense of well being. For non-Christians and people who do not celebrate Christmas, the decorations threaten their sense of self, depress their mood, and engendered feelings of alienation and exclusion.

In conclusion, the authors wrote, “The results raise concerns about the ubiquitous presence of dominant cultural symbols (such as Christmas displays) in culturally diverse societies.”

In 2005 writer, attorney, actor and former Nixon speech writer, Ben Stein delivered a commentary on Christmas observances. In it he says, “I’m a Jew and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish, And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. Stein categorically denies feeling threatened or discriminated against by Christian displays. He says, “I don’t like being pushed around fro being a Jews and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christian.”




I think that eveyr failth should celebrate their own holidays at their own time. If one faiths symbols create bad feelings in people of other faiths then in my opinion , too bad. Christmas trees are Chrismas trees. That's what they are. Call them what they are. This enitre PC- BS is beyond tedious. Now Christians should change the name of their own holiday symbols because some other non christians might feel bad about it ? Give me a break. I am a Jew but the attack on Christmas in this country by the left is relentless. Personally, I greatly enjoy the spirit of both Christmas and Hannukah at this time of year. My own family consists of both Jews and Christians and we celebrate both holidays. Frankly, I question the results of this study. There is no December holiday worshiped by Buddists, Hindus, Sihks,Muslims etc. This is a Judaeo / Christian country and a J/C holiday time frame.That's the reality and that's the way it is. Its not our responsiblity to try to make everyone feel good. Non Jews and non Christians have their own time of year and their own holidays. Do you think that Muslims would welcome having Christmas tress and Hannukah celebrations during Ramadan ? Of course not. And, don't forget about the Athiests. They are bound to be depressed and feel bad about all of the religious holiday symbols of the believers of every faith. So , let's make sure not to offend them either.

I agree with most of the last post, however, I consider myself on the left and I'm also a Christian who believes in standing up for Christmas in the media/society. Calling Christmas Trees "Ornamented Trees"?? Really? I guess we should call a Menorah a "7 Sticked Candelabra" except the Kwanza Kinara has 7 candles too so we must be careful you know! Give me a break!

This would be a much much better article if there were a comparison with other holiday symbols (as mentioned in the first comment) Hanukkah, Kwanza, etc. I understand that this article is most likely just a conversation starter, but from a psychological research standpoint it's not very helpful conversation. It's just fuel for the fire.

Simon Fraser University - are you kidding?
Their suggestion is "In such contexts, the safest course of action in terms of respecting diversity is to avoid putting up Christmas displays altogether. " Have you ever been in Iran during Ramadan or India during Burga Puja or China during Yunnan Yi. Try making a similar idiotic suggestion. Simon Fraser University - you really are kidding!

Dont call them Christmas Trees, maybe call them ornamented trees. Trees are beautiful and I just have a sense of peace around them. I respect everyone's right to have their religious symbols. I am a therapist and my office would be dreary without my little ornamented tree. There has not been any negative reaction from consumers that I have seen. No mention of Christmas or religion is ever a part of my counseling session unless the consumer brings it up.

Skewed Report.
Cubicles are depressing anyway, aren't they?
Also skewed because if you want real info, put Buddhist symbols in the other employee's cubicle's for their mood reports as well. And finally, you are drawing a conclusion from a preconceived notion - skewing how you gathered the data.

Thanks ffor the comments. I would think that the depressing nature of cublicles (if that's true) should have been present for all subjects, unless there is some interaction effect that would make you think non-Christians get more depressed by cubicles for some reason. Also doesn't most research starts from a preconceived notion (a hypothesis)? The data either supports or contradicts it. However, I did think your suggestion to "put Buddhist symbols in the other employee's cubicle's for their mood reports " is an excellent idea. I wondered what most Americans would report in regard to Muslim displays in today political climate?


Terry Stawar

President/CEO (LifeSpring, Inc.)

Terry Stawar


Terry L. Stawar, EdD, is President and CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems, a community behavioral...

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