One sociologist calls the effect of holiday celebrations, particularly Christmas, “collective effervescence.” 

The term is awkward, but we need what it captures more today than any other time most of us can remember.

Émile Durkheim says she coined collective effervescence “to describe the positive mood we feel when we take part in social activities that bring collective joy and make us feel part of a bigger community.”

Though I came across her terminology and research in a psychology journal, Durkheim was writing about large religious gatherings. Since her work, researchers have argued that this same feeling can be experienced in smaller units when family or friends get together.

We didn’t need a scientific study to know, entering wholeheartedly into the spirit of the season would be very good for our mental health. After a tough year, that is precisely what we need.

As we say a happy goodbye to 2020, we could all benefit from a shot of effervescence. 

In those more intimate settings of family and friends, the “effervescence” typically comes from reflecting on the year ending and anticipating a bright year ahead.

But can that work this year?

First, we have all the restrictions that are supposed to limit the spread of Covid-19. That is sufficient to dampen our holiday spirits.

Second, the experience of reflecting on the past year and anticipating the future is not necessarily the source of a needed lift this time around.

We would be looking back on the worse year in memory. The thoughts we have of the coming year are riddled with shrapnel from the physical, financial, and social battles we have been fighting to stay afloat.

The cancel culture. The spread of Covid-19. The record number of suicides. The increase in addictions. The tragedy of family abuse. The private businesses’ closure, etc. Those thoughts make your emotions flat, not effervescent.

Launching into 2021, even the most optimistic person among us has reason to pause at the thought of what might lie ahead.

We desperately need a little Christmas, but it is not likely to happen in large family gatherings or congregational worship services.

Where will you find your personal “effervescence” as the year ends?

I would suggest we go back to the original meaning of the word “Christmas.” Since Christmas is part of our collective American experience, we should know something about it.

When you look at the word, you might conclude that “Christmas” is a shortened form of “Christ’s mass.” You would be right. Functionally, Christmas means “The Worship of Christ.”

Since we are more separated physically from one another than usual, this is an excellent time to get in touch with the authentic meaning behind all the usual festivities.

To experience the “collective effervescence” this year, I suggest you do the following:

First, schedule some downtime to be quiet, silence your phone, listen to your breathing, and think about the concept: “The Worship of Christ.”

Second, read the story about how Christmas began. To do that, you will need a Bible or this website: https://www.bible.com/versions/59-esv-english-standard-version-2016.

You can use the search space or index to locate the story. You will find it scattered across many places. The following are a few: Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25, John 1:1-14, John 3:16.

Third, in your thoughts, reach out to God and ask Him to put the Light that came into the World at Christmas into your life.

If you do these simple things, your Christmas can sparkle, and you will enter the New Year with an effervescence that will power you to take on 2021. Your professional life and your personal life will be better for it.

Merry Christmas!


(To receive this weekly blog in your inbox, send a request to rosie@chuckward.com.)

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