Why Does Time Seem to Move Differently During the Holidays?

published Dec 28, 2019
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In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, time can feel like it’s moving differently. Days of eating, lounging, and visiting loved ones blur together, making days of the week feel especially arbitrary and easy to forget.

“Whatever your personal unit for quantifying the progression of days into nights is over the holidays, what feels universal is how we’re all collectively confronted by the idea that time — this seemingly objective fact that governs our reality — is actually just a social construct,” writes Jess Joho on Mashable. “And its construction gets weirdly wobbly over the holidays.”

Joho goes on to explore several of the different reasons why this happens. For one thing, there’s the nostalgia factor of the holidays. Those of us who go home to see family may feel “closer to youth and more estranged from it than ever,” she writes. Parts of or family dynamic may feel unchanged, which could throw into relief how much everyone has aged. On one hand, we’re full-grown adults, and on the other, our mom is babying us and we’re squabbling with our siblings.

At the same time, those of us who work or go to school may be on break over the holidays, thus losing the routine that typically structures our days. Even if we’re working through the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, with coworkers and clients on break, business is different from usual. As Joho points out, standard measurements of time like hours and days began “for the sake of global commerce.” When we step away from labor, in a way, we step out of time.

There’s also the common association of the New Year with reflection, which can simultaneously collapse and expand the feel of a year. The traditions and rituals associated with Christmas can have a similar effect. In other words, no matter whether or not you’re visiting family or taking time off from work, the holidays may be the closest you’ll get to slowing down or speeding up time.