With snowmen dancing in store windows, shelves packed with ornaments, holiday décor and gifts, not to mention the endless commercials and emails advertising holiday sales and 24/7 holiday tunes on the radio (already!?), it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… But the holiday is weeks away! This mad dash to deck the halls earlier and earlier each year is known as the “Christmas creep” and it leaves millions of people wondering when to decorate for Christmas. So we asked the experts — psychologists, time management experts and a tree guru — to weigh in on this hot-button holiday issue. And it turns out there are pros to decorating early and late! Read on for the details.
What’s the most traditional timing for decorating?
Conventional wisdom holds that Christmas decorations should go up on the first day of Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. In 2023, that’s Sunday, December 3rd. That said, many folks in the U.S. start decorating for Christmas as early as the day after Halloween. When Axios did a poll of its readership, it found that 55% put up their Christmas tree in the days following Thanksgiving:
Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond scoffs at that post-Thanksgiving timing: “I’ve never understood my friends and family members who set up their trees the day after (or, egads, the day of!) Thanksgiving,” says Ree. “You have to at least get past December 1, guys! I’ve been known to push it to December 17 or 18—and I’m always proud to be the last one on the block to have my tree up.”
Intrigued by the range of opinion on when to start decorating, we reached out to psychologists to ask for their thoughts on what decorating timing makes people happiest.
The advantages of decorating before December 1
Decorating early lets you lean into the joy
“Between the multisensorial elements and the powerful evocation of memories, holiday decorating is good for the soul,” shares Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, who focuses on emotional transitions and women’s relationships. “Twinkling lights, festive scents, familiar music and the warmth of a hot drink or crackling fire surround our senses to press ‘pause’ on our routines and worries.”
But it’s hard to enjoy when we’re rushed. “When we decorate earlier and at a more leisurely pace, we can fully immerse ourselves in a restorative experience which, after all, only comes once a year.” Alice Boyes, PhD, author of Stress-Free Productivity, agrees: “The lights and coziness feel comforting, magical and escapist — and that simplicity is powerful when life feels complex or challenging.”
Decorating early gives you time for extra holiday fun
“Decorating ahead of schedule gives you breathing room to do what you love,” encourages time management coach Rashelle Isip. Take a minute and, without judgment, consider what traditions you’ve always wanted to try but have struggled to squeeze in. For some, that’s stringing strand after strand of lights, tangles and all! Or maybe you love to read holiday-themed cozy mysteries, watch Hallmark Christmas movies while sipping hot cocoa, go crazy with your Cricut or bake Christmas cookies. “If your decorating is done early, it frees up precious time and acts as a backdrop for wonderful experiences you can enjoy solo or with a friend.”
Decorating early battles winter blues
“Seasonal dips in mood and energy start in the autumn,” shares Boyes. “Folks prone to seasonal depression may find that getting their lights up sooner helps counteract the reduction in daylight — and it’s nice to get outdoor tasks done before it’s colder and darker.” Degges-White concurs: “Many cultures celebrate light’s symbolism, and its ability to lessen fear, strengthen hope and warm us from the inside out. These include equinox days, Hannukah and the Hindu festival Diwali.” (Click through for more ways to beat holiday blues.)
The advantages of decorating later in December
Decorating later can boost your wellbeing
Approximately 75% of U.S. households—a staggering 94 million homes—display a Christmas tree. Of those, 84% are artificial. It’s this trend that has allowed decorating to start sooner and sooner, because there’s no concern that a faux tree will dry out. But if you wait to decorate and incorporate a fresh tree into your décor plans, it can improve your mental health!
West Virginia University researchers found that shopping for a fresh tree can improve your mental health! They showed participants videos of Christmas trees at farms, tree lots and retail stores and discovered that simply looking at the real trees allowed the brain to recover from stress and mental fatigue. “We call this feel-good state of mind ‘soft fascination,’ says study author Chad Pierskalla, PhD, Professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources. “It’s in contrast to ‘hard fascination’ — a more intensely focused, ‘on’ feeling,” which was evoked by looking at artificial trees.” (Other hard fascinations include loud noise and watching sports games on television.) “Our research shows that smelling fresh trees is a peak restorative experience,” confirms Pierskalla.
Decorating later can ward off post-holiday blues
“In an evolutionary sense, we’re wired to ignore the familiar and notice the unusual,” explains Boyes. “After a while we no longer notice things that once stood out. If your décor is up for too long, you may experience habituation or dilution.” (In other words, you get used to your decor and it doesn’t bring you as much joy as it once did.) Another consideration: Decorating later can lead to keeping your tree up into January, potentially mitigating any post-holiday blues. “Work schedules are relevant, too,” says Isip. “If you work on deadlines, waiting to decorate might be just the motivation you need to make it across the finish line of a big project.”
The bottom line
“We can get caught up with what’s ‘appropriate’ or ‘traditional’, but the beauty of holiday decorating is that your way — no matter what it is — is the right way for you!” encourages Degges-White.
Indeed, no matter when your trim your tree and put up your outdoor decorations, it’ll increase your holiday joy — and that of others! “Exterior decorating can be a surprisingly powerful creator of communion and cohesion,” shares Degges-White. “In fact, research shows that people who decorate the outside of their homes are seen as more approachable by their neighbors and enjoy greater integration within their communities.” Just think: Your decorating may be part of another’s tradition!
Isip also advocates for an individual approach: “I advise clients to be reflective about how seasonal projects or commitments have made them feel in the past. Were you rushed, stressed, relaxed, or motivated last year? Choose how you’d like to feel this year and plan accordingly.”
For more on holiday decorating, keep reading: