This time of year, people everywhere are dressing up the outside of their homes with holiday lights and decorations.
Strings of bulbs hang from the roofs and are wrapped round pillars and poles. Some plant electrical figures of Santa Claus or reindeer in their yards. And there are those who enjoy electric signs that beam greetings such as “Merry Christmas’’ and “Happy New Year.’’
The dazzling displays not only brighten your home but they also lift your spirits.
“It makes you feel better,’’ said Adam Sedlock, Uniontown psychologist and owner of ACS Psychological Associates. “It builds up endorphins – the bright lights, the atmosphere, the excitement of the season and being with family and friends.’’
Taking time to put up decorations and then enjoy them can bring some calm to a hectic time of year. The lights can be soothing and make us nostalgic.
Robert Mehalik, assistant professor, Counselor Education Department, California University of Pennsylvania, said. "For some, the holidays can be difficult so this takes them back to simpler times, happier times and it has this recall effect for those of us who have lost loved ones. It reminds us of the ones we loved.''
Sedlock noted psychologists have studied the impact of Christmas on the public for many years.
“Whenever we do something good, we feel better,’’ said Sedlock. “This time of year, people like to go out of their way to help others.’’
Decorating your house with lights can be part of this experience - something you do for your family, your neighbors and even yourself.
“It just takes putting up something little to give you a sense of accomplishment,’’ said Sedlock, adding, "The fact you’re doing something good, the endorphins are built up and you walk away smiling.’’
Mehalik noted, "There's also tradition. Usually every year when people decorate, they have at least one thing - a little ornament on a tree or something they put outside - that's carrying on a tradition.''
Don't forget the smells associated with Christmas traditions: pine branches, freshly baked cookies with vanilla and cinnamon, and Christmas dinner.
Mehalik said, "Smell is our strongest sense. It gives us more recall than any other sense.''
Decorating your home also makes you feel part of a community.
"It's a great way to increase community involvement and togetherness,'' said Mehalik.
Many people enjoy taking drives with family and friends to view Christmas lights in their communities, discovering the creativity of homeowners in their displays.
“It’s fun and it’s great to do it with someone you want to be with,’’ said Sedlock. “It’s an old tradition that’s been around since the advent of electric lights and cars. It’s a tradition that’s handed down. I remember going with my parents to look at Christmas lights. People still do it.’’
Interestingly, studies show that decorating your home for Christmas makes you appear more welcoming and friendly.
"I think that's true,'' said Mehalik. "It softens people during this time of year. I also think it says 'Look at me,' 'Look at our traditions.' I think it's an inviting way to do that.''
Holiday decorating can also be good for your well being.
"Anything that lifts our spirits and makes us think of happier times and our loved ones - that's all good for our mental health,'' said Mehalik. "The holidays can be a difficult time for some. A great way to remember our loved ones is to carry on tradition: hang lights and get in the Christmas spirit.''
Meanwhile, when decorating, remember to keep it safe.
First Energy offer suggestions for holiday decorating on its website:
"Double check lights for frayed wires or cracks, and be sure there is a bulb in each socket. Discard and replace damaged strands.
"When decorating outside, keep ladders and decorations away from overhead power lines. Ensure the ladder is securely placed on the ground before climbing.
"Lights should be approved by Underwriters Laboratory. 'UL' will be clearly displayed on the tag, signifying the product has been inspected for potential safety hazards. Red UL marks indicate the lights are safe for indoor/outdoor use, and green UL marks indicate the lights are only safe for indoor use.
"Do not hammer tacks or nails into the electrical cord when hanging lights. Instead, use clips to safely attach lights to the house.
"Use heavy-duty extension cords, and only use cords outdoors if they are designated for outdoor use. Avoid overloading extension cords by using no more than three sets of standard lights per cord.
"If possible, outdoor lights and inflatable decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). GFCIs help prevent electric shock by breaking the circuit when differences in the currents of hot and neutral wires occur.
"Use a timer or turn off lights before going to bed, or if you will be away from home.
"For special ornaments that plug into a bulb receptacle, use no more than two per strand, or check the manufacturer's directions.
"Indoor lights should not touch drapes, furniture or carpeting. Keep lit candles away from flammable items, too.
"Prevent tripping by placing cords and decorations in low-traffic areas where they won’t be walked on. Avoid twisting, kinking or crushing cords.''
First Energy noted, “By taking the proper precautions both inside and outside of your home, you can prevent hazards and focus on friends and family during the holidays. Don’t forget to periodically check lights and decorations throughout the season to ensure they continue to operate safely.’’