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How Celebrating Holidays and Festivals Can Improve Your Mental Health

By Natasha Tracy  •   December 19, 2022
•    Medically Reviewed By Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Jan 19, 2023

How Celebrating Holidays and Festivals Can Improve Your Mental Health

Celebrating holidays can be good for your mental health and it can help your physical health, too. In some ways this makes sense – after all, holidays are traditionally thought of as happy times – but in other ways this is contrary to what many experience. Sometimes holidays are thought of as nothing but stressful. However, research shows that celebrating holidays and festivals can make us feel physically and mentally better and improve sleep, cognitive functioning, and even one’s sex life. After the trials of COVID and how hard inflation has hit many people, celebrating the holidays might be just what we need right now.

Getting Physically Better by Celebrating Holidays and Festivals

Many people have experienced the grand exhale of being on holiday. Relaxation is felt in the body and the mind. According to Talkspace, there is even some early research that suggests that taking vacations actually makes you physically healthier, too. Two small studies suggest that a two-week break may lower your stress response and improve sleep quality. It may even improve your sex life. And best of all, improvements like a better mood and lesser stress responses may last for about a month after the holiday.

According to Robert C. Froemke, Ph.D., an associate professor of neuroscience and physiology at NYU Langone Health in New York City, celebrating sets off a cocktail of brain chemicals that's almost like a natural party drug. So, when you feel good during a holiday or festival, it’s not just psychological, it’s actually physiological in nature.

According to Shape:

“. . . oxytocin, which is associated with bonding and happiness and is released when you're around other people; noradrenaline, which skyrockets when you socialize and makes you feel energized and happy; and endorphins, feel-good chemicals that are released when you laugh, dance, and have a drink or two.” Dopamine, our excitatory chemical is also released and this helps us to keep us energized and excited during the holidays.

And these four chemicals are very important in your body. For example, it’s thought that dopamine can help us stay focused, oxytocin can help repair muscles, noradrenaline can help you focus, and endorphins can help reduce pain.

And best of all, during holidays and festivals, these positive effects are strengthened thanks to a shared sense of purpose and a human’s desire to mirror what’s around them.

According to Froemke,

“Human beings are wired to mirror others' emotions. When you're around people who are also reveling, it works to deepen your own experience.” We are also social beings and thrive on connecting with others which is why so many of us felt down and depressed during the pandemic.

Holidays and Festivals Around the World

Holidays and festivals include events like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve in North America, making most of us familiar with gift exchanges, egg hunts, roasted turkeys, and kisses at midnight. But other countries recognize how important celebrations are too. Popular holidays and festivals around the world include:

Gion Matsuri – Kyoto, Japan – This summer festival is more than 1000 years old and includes celebrations with sake, food, and intricate floats and lanterns.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – Sydney, Australia – This March celebration of love in all its forms, culminates in a parade along Oxford Street.

Saint Patrick’s Festival – Dublin, Ireland – Of course, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many places, but in Ireland, it’s a five-day, five-night festival in March, full of Irish pride and cheer.

Mevlana Festival – Konya, Turkey – The Melvlevi Order (better known as the Whirling Dervishes) celebrates the ideas of tolerance and religious ecstasy achieved through dance as taught by Anatolian holy man and Islamic scholar Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi each December for 10 days.

Holi Festival — India – In February-March, a rainbow of colour and Hindu traditions combine to create this celebration of love, springtime fun, and good triumphing over evil. This festival features a bonfire, singing, dancing, and throwing dye powder, uniting everyone.

And, of course, there are many, many more. The link between all holidays and festivals, thought, is that they’re all about celebration and joy and taking a break from everyday worries.

The Mental Health Benefits of Celebrating Holidays

In North America, people often get time off work for holidays and that allows people to unplug from work and enjoy a solid mental break. People can enjoy pleasurable pursuits during this time. If you have a novel on you to-read list, a holiday is the perfect time to dig into it. On a more practical note, disengaging from work gives people time to take care for their homes in ways they may not have had time for. That giant pile of laundry long to-do list can be tackled over a holiday.

All of the above can fall into the category of self-care, which is definitely beneficial for one’s mental health.

Spending time with friends and family is also common during the holidays and can also be good for your mental health and create positive memories to take with you into the future. The holidays can even improve your memory, according to Froemke,

“Celebratory times are often mentally engaging, requiring some pretty high-level brain activity . . . It's the brain equivalent of a full-body workout.”

The holidays create time for deeper conversations, movie watching, and game playing – all of which may be sacrificed during average days thanks to work or school obligations and all of which that may deepen bonds and improve your mental health. After all, according to Shape,

“. . . people who interact with others are happier and healthier than those who are less social, and they even live longer.”

The Power of Celebrating Christmas

Christmas may have started as a religious celebration, but now, it has important cultural and social ramifications as well. People of all denominations now celebrate parts of Christmas. This wide celebration can bring about many positive feelings that include greater altruism, goodwill, and generosity. These feelings are present to such as an extent that some have argued that Christmas cheer is actually an emotion all its own.

This may be because of something called “collective effervescence,” a term coined by sociologist Émile Durkheim. According to Neuroscience News,

“. . . Durkheim used the term ‘collective effervescence’ to describe the positive mood we feel when we take part in social activities that bring collective joy and make us feel part of a bigger community. Durkheim was writing about large religious gatherings, but researchers have argued more recently that this same feeling can be experienced in smaller units when family or friends get together.”

Christmas also brings with it specific rituals. These rituals may be specific to a family, but often include religious observances, giving and getting presents, going to parties, stringing lights, shopping in Christmas markets, putting up a tree, and dressing in specific ways. This is to say nothing of all the food that people love around Christmas time. The rituals of making and consuming foods like turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and more make up important parts of the holiday.

And while all of this sounds fun (and filling), that’s not all it is. Christmas celebrations can improve our mental health, too. Christmas rituals, in particular, have been shown to create a sense of wellbeing and satisfaction. Every time a person partakes of these rituals, positive memories are evoked of Christmases past. According to Neuroscience News, it’s like every time we decorate the tree, our brain fires up our stored festive feelings. Similar effects are seen even when Christmas-associated smells are experienced.

Rituals, such as those experienced at Christmastime also bring about social cohesion. We know who we are through our rituals. We feel less isolated thanks to common rituals and this, in turn, betters our mental health.

Finally, festivities highlight gratitude in our lives and gratitude increases wellbeing.

What About Holiday Depression?

Even with all the evidence that holidays and festivals are good for your mental health, it doesn’t mean they can completely alleviate the serious illness of depression. For some, especially those who do not have loved ones to celebrate with during the holidays, depression can get more severe. If you find that you have the symptoms of major depression despite the holidays happening all around you, make sure to contact a professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist. If needed, a doctor may prescribe a depression medication for you like fluoxetine (Prozac), bupropion (Wellbutrin), or amitriptyline (Elavil). If you’re already taking medication for your mental health, make sure you continue to take them as prescribed during the holidays. And remember, you can still have a good holiday, even with depression.

Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Holidays

According to Shape, in order to maximize the benefits seen during holidays, remember these things:

Enjoy a party of three-four or around 15. Those in a smaller party can all take part in a single conversation, which is low stress for all, while those in a party of 15 can break off into a few small groups of conversations reducing feelings of overwhelm or isolation.

Forget New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s resolutions can be positive motivators, but more often, they are just unreasonable goals that you can’t possibly live up to. According to a survey of 5,000 people, one of the biggest pillars of happiness is accepting yourself as you are.

Enjoy a group that has similar benefits to the holiday season all year round. Team sports, clubs, and volunteer organizations can create the type of feelings associated with holidays. They can provide purpose, meaning, and direction.

In short, enjoy the holidays to the maximum. Engage in rituals, be social, and eat all the traditional food. All of this is good for your mind and body and can carry you through the next month of work until, hopefully, another holiday or festival pops up.


1. Caraballo, J. (2018, October 1). The Mental Health Benefits of the Holidays. Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/the-mental-health-benefits-of-the-holidays/

2. Celebrating the Holidays Can Actually Make You Healthier. (2018, December 10). Shape. https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/health-benefits-celebrating-holidays

3. Neuroscience News. (2020, December 14). Why Celebrating Christmas Is Good for Your Mental Health. https://neurosciencenews.com/christmas-mental-health-17436/

4. Picone, L. (2022, July 5). The top 20 festivals from around the world. International Traveller Magazine. https://www.internationaltraveller.com/world/worlds-absolute-must-do-festivals/



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