Let’s spread a little festive cheer!

It’s that time of the year… dark mornings, cold nights and perhaps feeling a bit of festive cheer now that we’re in December! Some of us may have even turned our attention to Christmas weeks ago which, let’s admit, can feel very tempting given the bleakness that the Winter months can bring. We all just need something to look forward to at this time of year don’t we?

And Illumination Street Week was created just for that reason! It’s an annual celebration to encourage individuals, families and communities to spread a little festive cheer by brightening up their streets with magical lights and Christmas decorations. What a great way to foster a sense of connection and spread a little bit of happiness!

The Winter blues – SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Experts argue that the Winter months can often mean an increase or worsening of the symptoms of depression. For some, it can bring on the onset of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and, perhaps surprisingly, it can affect children and teenagers too.

There’s less daylight hours in the Winter and this can disrupt our balance of the happy hormone, serotonin, and the sleep hormone, melatonin.  NHS Inform states “In our bodies, light functions to stop the sleep hormone, melatonin, making us wake up. It’s thought that SAD sufferers are affected by shorter daylight hours in the Winter. They produce higher melatonin, causing lethargy and symptoms of depression.” Furthermore, the National Institute of Mental Health explains, “studies indicate that people with SAD, especially Winter-pattern SAD, have reduced levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood. 

SAD is not the same as the winter blues we might experience at this time of year due to other reasons, such as stress. It tends to persist for about 5 months of the year, with symptoms lifting as the Spring and Summer arrives. This type of seasonal depression can often put a damper in our holiday celebrations.

Illumination Street Week helps us to stay connected in these harder winter months…

Dealing with Seasonal Depression: The Importance of Connection for Children (and parents!)

As human beings, we are all hard-wired for connection. Without a sense of connection and community, children and adults can quickly begin to struggle with feelings of sadness. And, as we have seen, this can be amplified at this time of year. 

  • In primitive (or caveman) times, we would have existed in a tribe and been rewarded for mentally healthy behaviours (working together, being part of a group) in the form of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. We were safer in a tribe and so this feel-good effect would have encouraged more of this behaviour in order to maintain our survival.
  • This instinct still exists in children and adults today and socialising and engaging in community activities is one way of boosting our mental health and well-being. In the same way it did millions of years ago, we get a serotonin boost when we engage in these mentally healthy behaviours.
  • Serotonin not only boosts our mood and increases levels of happiness, it helps us and our children feel more motivated and can improve quality of sleep. When it comes to seasonal depression, there’s no doubt that engaging in actions and behaviours that boost our serotonin levels is one sure-fire way to combat those winter blues!

Get involved in Illumination Street Week!

As we have seen, feeling part of a community is a great way to boost our serotonin levels, and therefore our mood, but did you know those magical Christmas lights can boost our dopamine levels too? Dopamine is the pleasure hormone that is associated with reward. It’s the feeling we get when we open that box of Quality Street (or is it Roses in your house?) or unwrap those mince pies, and that feel-good feeling we get makes us not want to put them down! The pleasure-centre in our brain is activated and encourages us to seek another dopamine hit. 

Christmas lights have a similar effect on our brain. Who doesn’t love the look on our child’s face when the Christmas lights go on? And the memories we recall of those magical moments from our own childhood? It’s this very feeling that is the essence of Christmas cheer. If your child is dealing with seasonal depression, getting involved in Illumination Street Week may be perfect for you.

Here are some ideas to get your children involved this year:

  • Decorate your own home together as a family. Whilst this may be a long-standing tradition already in your household, consider ways to promote more togetherness at this time. Perhaps for you this could mean starting a brand new tradition, going out to choose a special bauble together to mark the passing year, or inviting friends and family over to admire your festive decorations with a mince pie or two!
  • Participate in a whole street event. Perhaps your neighbours would be interested in creating a street contest of Christmas lights. This could be as low-key or as magical as you like! The important bit is the sense of togetherness and community a shared event like this creates. Remember the importance of this for boosting serotonin levels!
  • Make an event of admiring the lights in your community. Get together as a whole family or with friends and wrap up warm for an evening walk or drive to admire the Christmas lights together. Some houses in the community decorate lights in elaborate ways to raise money for charity and this can be a fun and special way of giving to a good cause.
  • Visit the Christmas light switch on for your local area. For many people, this is already a treasured Christmas tradition. Maybe this year is a good opportunity to visit some more in your local area or further afield. 
  • Make a wreath for your front door complete with sparkling lights. For the creative (and not so creative) parents among us, this is a lovely way to get your children involved and start a new tradition. It’s a simple and relatively low-cost way to add some lights to your outdoors and even create a little joint competition amongst friends and neighbours!

To find out more about Illumination Street Week, visit HOME – Illumination Street

However, you celebrate it, enjoy spreading some fun festive cheer!