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Nostalgia, the Holiday Season, and Scents Trigger Memories

Regardless of how you celebrate the holidays—or even if you don’t—there’s a good chance that some kind of nostalgia arises when you think about the holiday season. Research shows a strong connection between the holidays and nostalgia, as well as a strong connection between aromatherapy and memory. Understanding the ways these phenomena work together in the brain is a great way to harness their benefits and make sure that you make some great new memories this holiday season and enjoy the season to the fullest.

holiday season Understanding Nostalgia

To truly understand why nostalgia is useful to humans, it’s important to first understand the neuroscience behind the phenomena. Scientists recognize two distinct types of nostalgia. 1

First, there is historical nostalgia, which refers to the positive feelings you might have about a particular period in history, regardless of whether you were alive during that time. If you’ve ever thought you were meant to be a teenager in the mid-1960s, even though you weren’t born at the time, then you’ve experienced historical nostalgia.

The other category of nostalgia is called personal nostalgia, and that is the kind that specifically references particular experiences in your past. When you smell an aroma that is exactly like the perfume your grandmother would wear during holidays and instantly recall happy memories associated with her, that’s an experience of personal nostalgia. Personal nostalgia is the type of nostalgia that the majority of the research focuses on.

Benefits of Nostalgia

There is a body of evidence that demonstrates that engaging with nostalgia can be beneficial. 2 Benefits include increased motivation, better mood, and reduced feelings of loneliness. Engaging in nostalgia can even increase self-esteem. This is because memories form the backbone of people’s understanding of who they are.

Memories, in many ways, are the stories that people touch on to form their concept of how they are currently doing in life. When people invoke the memories linked with the most emotion, which are often associated directly with nostalgia, they can almost immediately feel more grounded and motivated to do what needs to be done in the present moment to move forward.

Nostalgia and the Holiday Season holiday season

There’s a reason that people like to establish traditions when they gather year after year, and it has to do with nostalgia and the holiday season. When people come together as a family or a community and participate in the same rituals over and over, this consistently reinforces the positive associations with a certain day or time of year. In doing so, humans harness the power of nostalgia to enhance the emotional weight of experiences, since participating in something familiar will prime the brain to find it more enjoyable in the repetition.

Research is even showing that the benefits of nostalgia can remedy acute periods of stress or tension. By engaging with nostalgia, individuals can learn how to cope with stressful experiences by recalling memories from their past. 3 When you reflect on your memories, especially positive ones, you remember that you have the capacity to experience pleasure and connection.


Research has shown that when you reminisce through nostalgia therapy on times where you felt more connected socially, it can have a positive effect on your mood and even decrease the perception of loneliness. So, even if you’re not participating in your regular activities this holiday season, giving yourself the gift of transporting yourself back to the happier times through scent is an effective way of keeping holiday blues at bay.

If you’re looking to reminisce on the scent of the holiday season, using spicy essential oils like clove, ginger, and nutmeg topically or aromatically is a good option. Overall, enjoy memories, old and new, and have a happy holiday season!

Photo Credits: Halfpoint/, YuganovKonstantin/, Tijuanam/

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