Associate News Editor
Well before Thanksgiving, many already had Christmas lights and inflatable menorahs proudly displayed in their front yards. Throughout the fall, the consistency of the holidays has provided something to look forward to as the number of coronavirus cases continued to climb.
The holiday season has always been a time to visit with family and engage in various traditions. As religion and the associated holidays are largely rooted in tradition, it is more likely to have a sense of nostalgia associated with it.
Swiss physician Johannes Hofer (1669–1752) initially coined the term “nostalgia” to characterize the feelings of homesickness among Swiss mercenary soldiers. Since then, the term has expanded to take on a more positive connotation, as it is associated with positive memories.
Because everyone’s pasts are unique, each person experiences nostalgia differently.
“I kind of think of [nostalgia] like just memorable, happy moments that just reflect on a time in my life that something really changed my life; or just made me feel accepted or happy, or just to be really joyful in the moment,” Amorelle Penick, a senior at the university, said.
According to an interview the American Psychological Association (APA) conducted in 2011 with Krystine Batcho, a professor at Le Moyne College and expert on nostalgia, people generally feel more nostalgic around the holidays because certain memories are “reawakened” and relationships are brought to the forefront of our attention.
“During the holidays, families and friends get together to celebrate and reconnect,” Batcho told the APA. “They get caught up on one another’s lives, reminisce and browse through old photographs.”
Senior Lauren Schmucker associates the holidays with the presence of her grandparents, and this will be the first year that she does not spend Christmas with them.
“I guess [nostalgia] just brings back memories,” Schmucker said. “Feelings of love too. Definitely love and like happiness and warmth too, because having [my grandparents] there just felt like security in a sense. I was safe. It was Christmas time.”
For Penick, the holidays similarly revolve around family, and she often looks forward to reconnecting with her grandmother, aunts and uncles at the end of the semester.
“I really miss being able to take those family photos or decorate the Christmas tree with [family] or things like that,” Penick said. “So, that I guess you could say impacted me, and also the thought of just opening presents and having dinner and just enjoying and connecting once again with them.”
Batcho said that the act of coming home for the holidays is a manifestation of these feelings of nostalgia. This year, however, many will not be able to engage in holiday traditions because of concerns surrounding COVID-19, adding another layer of nostalgia as they think back to previous holidays. Instead of visiting with family, many are resorting to recorded religious ceremonies, Zoom Hanukkah celebrations and virtual Christmas gatherings.
“I don’t think it’s actually hit me, but I think once it gets closer and it feels more like Christmastime, I’ll feel more sad,” Schmucker said.
According to an article from the New York Times, feelings of nostalgia tend to increase during stressful periods as people reminisce about a more carefree past. Batcho discussed these experiences in her interview with the APA.
“For many, holidays bring back memories of simpler times along with the sense of the security of childhood or the carefree feelings of being young, with fewer of the worries and stress that accompany responsibilities,” Batcho told the APA. “Most often, holidays remind us of people who have played important roles in our lives and the activities we shared with them.”
Batcho also said that drawing attention to the past during difficult times can be uplifting and remind people that they are still “the person who had been happy, strong and productive at times in [their] past.” She also said that nostalgia can “help a person cope with loneliness” by enhancing past feelings of connection.
“Nostalgic memories can help someone who is away from home or someone who is mourning the death of a family member by reminding us that the bonds we share with those we love survive physical separation,” Batcho told the APA.
Within the context of the pandemic, Batcho’s words are more relevant than ever.
Penick agrees that nostalgia has provided a sense of relief throughout the pandemic. She said that reminiscing on the past has made her more optimistic in getting through the “rough times” brought on by the pandemic.
“I think it just makes me really appreciate all the happy moments or the times that we did get to do things on a more normal, regular basis,” Penick said. “So it just kind of makes you appreciate the little things or the times that you did spend with others and loved ones.”