Many Europeans do not experience the run-up to Christmas as a particularly jolly time, and often feel despondent and stressed, reports a new study published in the Springer journal Applied Research in Quality of Life. However, the study suggests Christians, particularly those who are very religious, are the exception to this pattern.
In a study on Christmas and subjective well-being (SWB), Michael Mutz of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen in Germany analysed large-scale data from the European Social Survey (ESS) for eleven historically Christian European countries: Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In the two ESS rounds Mutz used, the SWB of respondents was measured by asking how satisfied they were with their lives and how they would rate their emotional state. The author then compared the data for respondents questioned in the pre-Christmas (16-26 Dec.) and post-Christmas (27-31 Dec.) periods to those questioned at other times of the year (excluding July and August).
In general, respondents interviewed around Christmas showed significantly less satisfaction with their lives and experienced more negative emotions than those surveyed at other times of the year. However, this was not the case among very religious Christians, who responded that they felt more positive and content with life during the run-up to Christmas than other respondents. Furthermore, people with higher levels of education or children at home also tended to take the holiday period more in their stride.
According to Mutz, the results of the study do not show that Christians are completely immune to the effects the Christmas period has on people's emotions, they just seem to be less affected than non-religious people. He notes this appears to hold true for all Christians, regardless of how religious they rate themselves.
Mutz suggests the lower levels of life satisfaction and emotional well-being observed may come as a result of the stresses involved in the pre-Christmas period -- such as buying presents in time and fulfilling social obligations -- and a growing material consumer culture, with its related financial concerns, surrounding the festive period: "People with Christian affiliation and a strong sense of religiousness celebrate Christmas differently than the majority of non-Christians. It can be assumed that these individuals are less prone to becoming absorbed by the consumerism that precedes the holidays," says Mutz. "Christian religious affiliation is a protective factor against the general decline of subjective well-being around Christmas."
The study is based on data taken from rounds three and six of the European Social Survey, an academically driven, cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe every two years since 2001 and measures the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns in diverse populations. The author notes that limitations to the study include the small number of interviews conducted over the Christmas holiday period (compared to other times of year) and the reliance on self-reported data. Another limitation is that no valid measures for perceived stress are included in the ESS data, so the study could not directly assess whether declines in SWB at Christmas are due to increased stress levels. Finally, the author notes a further limitation in that the majority of non-Christians included in the ESS data identified as atheists without a religious denomination, with only a limited number of individuals identifying as a non-Christian denomination.
Reference: Mutz, M. (2015). Christmas and Subjective Well-Being: A Research Note, Applied Research in Quality of Life, DOI 10.1007/s11482-015-9441-8