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"Ho-ho-ho!": Nudging me how?


So, we finally reached THAT time of the year. For most of us it is the best, most expected and joined time in the whole 365 days. We want to spend time with our family, friends and everyone we love. We all feel that we should be more sympathetic with the ones surrounding us.

With family, friends or even alone, we breathe knowing that the atmosphere is different from the other days.

Once I found myself thinking about how I started to feel this feeling when this time gets closer. Is it automatic or do we just get used to it throughout the years, seeing our family celebrating it every year? How did Christmas even start? This is what we are going to find out!

A brief history behind Christmas

On the 25th of December we celebrate Christmas, and, besides being a sacred religious holiday, it is also a worldwide cultural phenomenon. During this time, we exchange gifts, decorate Christmas trees, some attend the church, share meals with family and friends, and even some of us still wait for Santa Claus. But there is a brief story behind this word.

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. For many, it was the only time of the year when they had a supply of fresh meat, and most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking (at least I can conclude that this has nothing to do with “The Winter is coming”).

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday, although the Bible does not mention it.

Gift giving

Gift giving is an important social custom that involves identity, social norms, similarity, obligatory rituals, reciprocity, and so on. But with this, the paradox of choice arises - the feeling of paralysis that arises when we are faced with too many options.

Researchers explore the idea that gifts represent the identity of the giver, that we give gifts that force others to form a certain image of us. It is also seen as a representation of the similarity between the giver and the recipient. Some studies say that when we receive an undesirable gift, we are likely to rate ourselves as less similar to the gift-giver (tip: it is not because you loved it that she/he will love it).

The Christmas “cheer” emotion

“What do you mean by “cheer”?”.

I mean that feeling of joy, warmth and nostalgia people feel when the jingle bells start jingling. But first we have to have in mind what is an emotion. Humans have a small set of core emotions, like fear and happiness, and they have their own dedicated brain region which affects our physiology and behaviour. The brain combines information about our physiological state, environment and personal experiences to form a subjective feeling inside you. Researchers say that when we see Christmas pictures or adverts, we feel much more positive in a sense that by seeing them we associate good things, our heart beats quicker because of the excitement evoked in us as a child.

At Christmas time, each person has associations with songs, foods and activities that translate into this “Christmas cheer”. Spend time doing festive activities which you enjoy, share your experience with the people you love, and do whatever rituals make sense to you.

How do marketers nudge us to buy during this period?

Marketers kind of say yes to the irrational part of our brain, the one that wants to buy things without thinking too much about why we are buying. This, for sure, allows us to live without worries. The Scarcity effect says that when a thing is only available for a short time, our mind will be more willing to pay for it. We don’t think clearly and it accelerates our perceived perishability of an offer. The Overwhelming stimulus is when, for example, we are walking into a shopping mall and everything we see and hear is about Christmas. We get that pressure that we should get into the festive season, and so no rational thinking about buying.

Just in this moment we buy things we somehow think we will need. Without thinking about the others we have bought or even if they are really going to make a change in the celebration itself.

Wrapping up

Even not knowing exactly what Christmas represents (in the sense that it is a bomb of feelings, emotions and soever), we will always wait for this period. It is also not all about the gifts (even though some don't have this right anymore - sorry adults) or THE dinner, but about the happiness we feel when being surrounded with the atmosphere full of joy that we so much love. Even knowing that money flies at light speed during this period and that in January there won’t be any money to spend, we do it over and over again. It is all about the “It’s Christmas” that we say every time we want to justify our acts.

The best of the best Christmas for you!

Written by:

Natízia Oliveira


Kotamarthi, Preeti. 2021. "The Behavioral Science Guide To Gift Giving - The Decision Lab". The Decision Lab.

"The Neuroscience Of The Christmas Cheer 'Emotion'". 2021. The Conversation.

"The Psychology Of Christmas Shopping: How Marketers Nudge You To Buy". 2021. The Conversation.

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