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There's a reason why some Christmas songs make you cry

There's a reason why some Christmas songs make you cry
  • Christmas is strongly linked to nostalgia, which can lead to powerful emotions.

  • Christmas songs may be written in a certain way to trigger feelings of sadness.

  • Connecting with those negative emotions can have a positive effect on your wellbeing.

"White Christmas," "Silent Night," "All I Want for Christmas," they all reduce me to tears, every year, and I'm not the only one. A quick Google reveals many people feel sad when they hear Christmas carols or a classic Christmas tune.

Experts say those festive feels can be good for our mental health, but why does Christmas music have this effect?

Christmas songs connect us to the past

One reason Christmas music triggers such strong emotions is because it takes us right back to our childhood. "Christmas is a really powerful source of nostalgia," said Clay Routledge, a psychologist and author of "Past Forward: How Nostalgia Can Help You Live a More Meaningful Life."

"We can be nostalgic about lots of things, but we're especially nostalgic about things that make us feel connected to those we love," Routledge said. "We also get nostalgic about culturally significant celebrations that connect us to others in a broader way, Christmas is a perfect combination."

For some of us, Christmas music can be even more emotive. Marianne Rizkallah, music therapist and founder of North London Music Therapy says that "we often associate music with a particular time or event, like sharing Christmas dinner with family. But if you've just been through a big relationship change in some form, like a break-up or the death of a grandparent, hearing those songs can remind you of that time and how different things are now."

Even if listening to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" does make you long for Christmases past, it can also help you look forward to making new plans with family and friends.

"Nostalgia is known as an ambivalent emotion; there's that combination of happy and sad," Routledge said. "In fact, that's what makes nostalgia more meaningful — if it was a purely happy experience, it wouldn't feel as special. Knowing we don't get to enjoy Christmas all the time with the people we love can actually motivate us to create new experiences."

Some songs have been written to trigger emotions

Some Christmas songs may have been written with the specific intention of triggering sad emotions. "White Christmas" is reminiscing about Christmases past — and we know why that works — while "I'll Be Home For Christmas," written in 1943, made millions of people think about those fighting abroad who might never make it home. But it's not just the lyrics that help create a classic Christmas tearjerker.

Music theorists believe various pieces of classical music were written using specific harmonies or melodic structures that, over time, we've come to associate with certain emotions. So, a particular chord or melody now has a particular emotional response: who can hear those two notes from "Jaws" without being terrified?

This means Christmas carols and festive tunes may contain certain musical structures that are guaranteed to make us feel sad.

"Christmas songs are as much about memories and feelings as they are about the properties of music itself. But you need both sides; they go hand in hand to create those strong emotions," Rizkallah said.

Why the festive feels are good for us

Crying while doing your Christmas shopping may not be a good look, but getting emotional over festive tunes can have a positive effect on your mental health. Researchers found listening to sad music can feel comforting, while a separate study concluded it could even be pleasurable.

When you combine the effects of sad songs with nostalgia, there's even greater health benefits. "Listening to nostalgic music can boost optimism, raise your self-esteem and foster social connectedness, which tackles loneliness," Routledge said.

Christmas songs also allow us to connect to our emotions in a safe way. "Music gives us a container to safely feel our emotions but if they're too much, we can put them away again when the song is over," Rizkallah said. "Using music to feel sad can provide catharsis, helping us to work through any overwhelming feelings."

So, next time you feel low when Bing Crosby croons about chestnuts, lean into those emotions. Shedding a festive tear or two may be the best gift you could give yourself this Christmas.

Rosalind Ryan is a UK-based freelance journalist who specializes in writing about health and wellbeing.

Read the original article on Business Insider