As busy as this time of year is, I love it! I love listening to the songs of the season as I drive around town. I love how they fill the car with the catchy melodies I heard as a kid, melting the end-of-semester, holiday stress away!
But the more I learn about media effects and processing, the more I find myself thinking about older, more traditional media this time of year. Have you noticed that at Christmastime, the holiday classics from the 40s, 50s, 60s, etc. live on over our airwaves? The likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Brenda Lee, and more. It's not just music. We escape the cold, snowy weather by settling down to watch our favorite holiday movies with the sounds of a crackling fire in the distance - "White Christmas," "Christmas Vacation,"
Home Alone," and more.
It's not just music and movies. Television stations show classic holiday specials like "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which celebrated it's 50th anniversary in 2015.
We read traditional stories about the season, such as "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (a poem published in 1837 attributed to Clement Clarke Moore) and "A Christmas Carol" (an 1843 novel by Charles Dickens). These literacy connections continue today. We don't text, tweet, call, or email Santa - we still sit down with young children to help them write a letter to Santa. According to a 2007 survey by the Universal Postal Union, writing letters to Santa and the formal effort to answer those letters dates back to at least 1912.
Why in an age of new media are we drawn
to traditional media during the holidays?
One possible answer lies in the fact that our brain process media content in terms of how we think and feel about it - both cognitively and emotionally (Potter & Bolls, 2012). A large body of media research has and continues to explore this phenomenon.
How do we think about media?
We think about media in all sorts of ways. For example, the story itself. How did Clara suddenly bear witness to a life-sized battle between the Rat King and the Nutcracker? How did Kevin McCallister think he made his family disappear in "Home Alone?" How did his family actually forget him? And is Jo in "Little Women," really the author, Louisa May Alcott?
We also think about the words and phrases we read, see, and hear. Frank Sinatra doesn't just sing "Jingle Bells," he sings
We think about those special words associated with the season, things like, "there arose such a clatter," "Oh Tannenbaum," and "here we go awassailing."
How do we feel about media?
Media has the power to influence how we feel - both positively and negatively. Music, movies, tv shows, video games, books, they all have the power to evoke emotional responses in us - amused, comforted, happy, sad, enraged, angered, confused, and more. These emotion-based experiences sometimes stay with us, eliciting
media-induced nostalgia. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary,
nostalgia is a desire to return to a sentimental experience within our past. Often, this is a positive and social experience. Media-based experiences can be associated with nostalgia, including movies, music, and video games (Cheung et al., 2013; Natterer, 2014; Wulf, Bowman, Rieger, Velez, & Breuer, 2018). Perhaps this is one reason we haul out the media traditions, as they are associated with the sentimental memories from Christmases past. We are deeply connected our traditions - the holiday memories passed on from past generations, the memories of our childhood, and the traditions we have created with our own families.
It's through media, often more traditional forms, that we preserve our holiday memories. Before we could whip out our phones to film or photograph special moments unfolding in front of us, we used video cameras, camcorders, and film projectors to make home
movies. Instead of gathering around a phone or tablet, families would gather instead around a portable pull-down screen, a television, or more recently a computer to watch and reminisce of past Christmases, holidays, and special occasions. As cameras became more affordable and compact, transitioning from black and white to color, family memories were easier to capture, filling photo albums and slide projectors. Today we share them via text, the cloud, and social media.
Media plays a role in enjoying the season and reminiscing about special people and events of the past. But during this special time of year, take time to enjoy everything the season has to offer - the time spent with family and friends, those who live near and far, and the joy a simple smile or kind-hearted gesture brings to another. Media plays a role in capturing these special memories or connecting us with loved ones who are unable to travel. But it's the people who occupy our hearts and memories that media helps us connect with.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year's
to you and yours!
Additional references and resources:
Cheung, W.-Y., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Hepper, E. G., Arndt, J., & Vingerhoets, J. J. M. (2013). Back to the future: Nostalgia increases optimism. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 1484–1496. doi:10.1177/ 0146167213499187
Natterer, K. (2014). How and why to measure personal and historical nostalgic responses through entertainment media. International Journal on Media Management, 16, 161–180. doi:10.1080/ 14241277.2014.989567
Potter, R. F., & Bolls, P. D. (2012) Psychophysiological measurement and meaning: Cognitive and emotional processing of media. New York: Routledge.
Wulf, T., Bowman, N. D., Rieger, D., Velez, J., & Breuer, J. (2018). Video games as time machines: Video game nostalgia and the return of old gaming content and technologies. Media and Communication, 6(2), 60-68. doi: 10.17645/mac.v6i2.1317