Four weeks ago, people packed up their Halloween decorations and turned back their clocks to move off daylight saving time.
Then, a week later, with COVID-19 cases trending upward, provinces began to introduce more restrictions on social gatherings. All of a sudden, the days were dark and rainy, temperatures were dropping, and people were once again shut in.
Then, something started to happen — twinkling lights began to appear on railings, door frames, and bookshelves. The silhouettes of Christmas trees began popping up in apartment windows and the backgrounds of virtual meetings.
And while every year there are complaints about “Christmas creep” — the tendency for seasonal decorations and music to be introduced earlier and earlier in a bid to sell more stuff — this year felt slightly different.
Daniel Cowan, the founder and owner of FestiLight, a professional Christmas light installation service based in B.C., said the trend was noticeable as early as July. Now, he can hardly keep up with the demand for holiday cheer.
“I’ve been in this for 11 years and it’s by far the busiest year we’ve ever had. People are doing it earlier and we’re expecting the lights to stay up longer,” he said.
Sharon Margaret Gurka, 73, lives in a care home in Surrey, B.C., where a massive light installation has just been completed. Strolling through a garden transformed into candy cane lane, she described the lights as “a big bunch of brightness.”
“We haven’t been out in nine months, none of us have been anywhere. So anything they can bring for Christmas is a joy.”
The desire to break up the monotony of gloomy nights — especially for people like Gurka, who have been in isolation for months — may seem obvious.
‘Mental time travel’
But UBC psychiatry professor Steven Taylor said the urge to pull your decorations out of storage a little early this year is about more than just the esthetic beauty of the lights.
“Cultural rituals are important to people because they’re stable and positive and normalizing. And rituals are things that outlive our mortality, they outlive the sickness and death of COVID-19,” he said.
Taylor compared the phenomenon to other nostalgic trends that emerged earlier in the pandemic, when people took to social media to post photos of themselves from 10 years ago, or began baking bread en masse.
“Christmas decorations invoke positive memories for a lot of people, so it’s a great positive way of coping with things,” he said.
“Some people even retain their old Christmas decorations from their childhood. In a sense, it’s mental time travel or reminiscent to a positive time.”
Cowan said he’s grateful for the uptick in business. He’s also a commercial pilot, and many of his employees are furloughed airline workers finding creative ways to make ends meet.
He said places like hotels, restaurants, and businesses, which have had a hard financial year, have cut back on their spending for seasonal decor, and some public displays have been cancelled or postponed to prevent crowds from gathering.
But he said the demand from private residences has business booming, and he’s happy to be providing the Christmas cheer.
“Who couldn’t use a little extra positivity right now?”