I sometimes ask my patients who are young adults their favorite memories about holidays over the years. Their recollections never include gift cards, luxury resorts, electronics, or expensive gifts. In fact, what they describe are snapshots in time, personal and family memories and rituals. Nostalgia derives from two powerful words from Ancient Greece: Nostos (Memory) and Algos (Ache).
A few recent conversations:
- A quiet day together as a family. Everyone lounging about in pajamas and doing pretty much nothing except enjoying a peaceful day away from everyday responsibilities.
- Putting up ornaments. Decorations that have been collected over the years, some homemade, those from travels, historical keepsakes.
- Eating special foods. Cannolis, homemade puddings and breads, a Chinese food feast, a breakfast casserole saved for special occasions, clients frequently tell me about a cultural favorite or personally beloved meal and its significance.
- Volunteering. Memories of working together as a family for food pantries, churches, neighborhoods, and community centers to serve other families was one of the most vivid experiences described.
- Visiting. In communities where families live close by, going to several homes of relatives and neighbors and being welcomed by delicious food and laughter at each house.
- Lights. Walking or driving around and looking at light displays is a fond memory for many clients. From Diwali to Midnight Mass, the flickering of candles and lights creates a glow that is indelible.
- Fetes. One family has carved out the day after Christmas as a unique yearly celebration. They gather for a decadent seafood feast mouthwateringly anticipated every year, where everyone pitches in to cook and clean.
- Family photos. Young adults show me pictures of their family gathered together for a yearly photograph; on a staircase, at the table, by the tree, in the yard. As the years go by, seeing familiar faces aging can have a lot of impact, and later, the missing faces.
- Road trips. Taking long family road trips together are both humorous and slightly hellish memories for many. Enforced togetherness on the way to see other family members or take a vacation can be a challenge. One of the families I work with is driving over 2000 miles in the next 10 days to see loved ones, a potential plot for sitcoms. How to stay engaged and not irritated or frustrated is a family challenge. And Memory-Making.
- Love from a distance. From the use of FaceTime, to family Zoom sessions during the years of COVID-19, a new tradition in our unconscious has become connecting and celebrating with loved ones from afar.
The beauty of personal and family rituals is part of our neuropsychology. Also see The Neuropsychology of Nostalgia