A functional MRI study was conducted in October 2015. The
Functional Imaging Unit and Department of Clinical Physiology,
Nuclear Medicine and PET in Denmark performed this study locating a
“Christmas spirit” network in the brain that is activated by images
with Christmas themes.
The Christmas spirit has been a widespread phenomenon for centuries,
commonly described as feelings of joy and nostalgia mixed with
associations to merriment, gifts, delightful smells, and copious
amounts of good food.
It is yet to be determined, however, where in the human body this
“Christmas spirit” resides and which biological mechanisms are
This research was an attempt to localize the Christmas spirit in the
human brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Christians have for centuries recognized emotional changes that
happen during the yuletide season, “Peace on earth and good will to
men." This season is full of joy, including family get-together’s,
parties, visits and gifts.
This study indicates that our neural-makeup may have a larger role
in the Christmas spirit than believed before.
The objective of this experiment was to detect and localize the
Christmas spirit in the human brain.
Designed as a single blinded, cross-cultural group study, with
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); ten healthy
participants were randomly chosen from the Copenhagen area who
routinely celebrate Christmas and 10 healthy people living in the
same area who have no Christmas traditions. An even number of males
and females were chosen who all were in their early twenties.
The neural networks showed a series of cerebral regions are more
active in people who celebrate Christmas with positive associations,
as compared with people with no Christmas traditions and neutral
Neural activity was monitored as the subjects viewed a series of
images with Christmas themes interweaved with neutral images having
similar characteristics but containing nothing that symbolizes
Christmas. After scanning, participants answered a questionnaire
about their Christmas traditions and the associations they have with
Christmas. Brain activation maps from scanning were analyzed for
Christmas related activation in the “Christmas” and “non-Christmas”
Subsequently, differences between the two groups were calculated to
determine Christmas specific brain activation.
Conclusion, there is a “Christmas spirit network” in the human brain
comprising several cortical areas. This network had a significantly
higher activation in people who celebrate Christmas with positive
associations as opposed to a people who have no Christmas traditions
and neutral associations. Further research is necessary to
understand this and other potential holiday circuits in the brain.
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Suffice it to say that the joy that comes from the birth of Jesus
affects our body, spirit and soul, but the brain with its wonderful
mysterious power may be more central to enjoying Christmas than we
have ever known.
The Christmas spirit has eluded science thus far; though well known
as a pleasant feeling, its cerebral location and mechanisms are
still a mystery. This research is a beginning of understanding how
God has created His Spirit to master the emotions.
Throughout the world, it is estimated that millions of people are
prone to displaying Christmas spirit deficiencies. This is known as
the “bah humbug” syndrome, Seasonal Deficient Disorder, or simply
Christmas Blues. This research will help further treatment and cure
for those suffering with these conditions.
Accurate localization of the Christmas spirit is a paramount first
step in being able to help this group of patients. Location of the
Christmas spirit could also contribute to a more general
understanding of the brain’s role in festive cultural traditions,
making a medical contribution to cross cultural festivities and
goodwill to all.
To find the complete answer, perhaps science could investigate the
source of “The real Spirit.” But then again, “The carnal mind cannot
understand the things of the Spirit.” I find it comforting to
understand a little bit more about how God created man and the
mechanics He designed for us to function.