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“JOY is the true gift of Christmas.”—Pope Benedict XVI 

Are the Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza holidays more blissful or more stressful? YES, all the above. There have been voluminous research studies on this subject. Here are various scientific findings reported by Dr. Sebastian Ocklenburg in Psychology Today (December 2019) which reinforce The S.U.N.S. (Smile-Making, Uniting, Neighboring, Spellbinding) Joyous Aging System

S.U.N.S. HOLIDAY JOY (Smile-Making) 

Scientists have identified a “Christmas spirit network in the brain,” according to a 2015 study by Anders Hougaard and others. The research group was small — 10 people who celebrated Christmas compared to 10 people who did not have this tradition. The brains of all were scanned in an MRI machine. Findings showed those who celebrate Christmas had increased brain activity in the sensory motor cortex which relates to spirituality and positive facial emotions—SMILE-MAKING. 

S.U.N.S. HOLIDAY JOY (Uniting) 

A study reported from Michigan (Jason R. Keeler et al., 2015) found that singing Christmas carols with others increases physical and psychological well-being and strengthens emotional bonds of those who carol together. Caroling groups have a decrease of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which is a marker of stress. Also, carolers test higher for oxytocin, a hormone linked to social bonding in humans. 

“HUNDRED DOLLAR HOLIDAY: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas” by Bill McKibben has started an entire movement aimed at reducing store-bought holiday stress and increasing deeper connection with family and friends. Many families have cut back on Christmas spending to the suggested $100 goal. The book does a great job of explaining how American consumerism kidnapped the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, why that’s been depressing for millions and how each of us can find joy with cheaper alternatives.  

McKibben trumpets “Christmas Gift Exemption Vouchers” to download at www.AdBusters.org. For those who are more joyfully light hearted, check out the annual newsletter of the Society to Curtail Ridiculous, Outrageous and Ostentatious Gift Exchanges (SCROOGE). 

S.U.N.S. HOLIDAY JOY (Neighboring) 

Better to give than receive? Spending money on gifts for others is scientifically proven to make you more joyful than spending it on yourself. The research was done by giving those being tested money ($5 or $20) and instructing them to spend it that day on either paying on a bill, buying themselves something or buying something for someone else. At the end of the day, regardless of the amount, those who spent on others registered a greater increase in joy. 

This story from The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website, www.actsofkindness.org, is a warm, NEIGHBORING one you’ll want to share with others this holiday: 

It was only four days before Christmas. The spirit of the season hadn’t yet caught up with me, even though cars packed the parking lot of our local discount store. Inside the store, it was worse. Shopping carts and last-minute shoppers jammed the aisles. “Why did I come today?” I wondered. My feet ached almost as much as my head. My list contained names of several people who claimed they wanted nothing, but I knew their feelings would be hurt if I didn’t get them something. Trying to come up with gift ideas for people who had everything, and deploring the high cost of goods, I considered gift buying anything but fun.  

Hurriedly, I filled my shopping cart with items and proceeded to the long checkout lines. In front of me were two small children—a boy of about five and a younger girl. The boy wore a ragged coat. Enormously large, tattered tennis shoes jutted far out in front of his much too-short jeans. He clutched several crumpled dollar bills in his grimy hands. The girl’s clothing resembled her brother’s. Her head was a matted mass of curly hair. Reminders of an evening meal showed on her small face. She carried a beautiful pair of shiny, gold house slippers. As the Christmas music sounded in the store’s stereo system, the girl hummed along, off-key but happily. 

When we finally approached the checkout register, the girl carefully placed the shoes on the counter as though they were a treasure. The clerk rang up the bill. “That will be $6.09,” she said. The boy laid his crumpled dollars atop the stand while he searched his pockets. He finally came up with $3.12. “I guess we will have to put them back,” he bravely said. “We will come back some other time, maybe tomorrow.” 

With that statement, a soft sob came from the little girl. “But Jesus would have loved those shoes,” she cried. “Well, we’ll go home and work some more,” said the boy. “Don’t cry. We’ll come back.” Quickly I handed $3 to the cashier; after all, it was Christmas. Suddenly a pair of arms came around me and a small voice said, “Thank you, lady.” 

“What did you man when you said Jesus would like the shoes?” I asked. The boy answered, “Our mommy is sick and going to heaven. Daddy said she might go before Christmas to be with Jesus.” The girl spoke, “My Sunday School teacher said the streets in heaven are shiny gold, just like these shoes. Won’t Mommy be beautiful walking on those streets to match these shoes?” My eyes flooded as I looked into her tear-streaked face. “Yes,” I answered, “I am sure she will.” Silently I thanked God for sending these children to remind me of the true spirit of giving.” 

S.U.N.S. HOLIDAY JOY (Spellbinding) 

Christmas is not the time to give up “in the zone” exercise nor postpone medical appointments. A 10-year study at the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia concluded Christmastime sees an increase in incidents of heart failure. You might consider brisk walks and less eggnog this holiday. 

When your holiday dreams include the wish to make them more SMILE-MAKING, more warmly UNITING, more others-centered NEIGHBORING and more magically SPELLBINDING, I hope you’ll remember the scientific studies and holiday ideas above. Let’s all enjoy MORE JOY and LESS HUMBUG this season. 


“This is my wish for you: peace of mind, prosperity through the year, happiness that multiplies, health for you and yours, fun around every corner, energy to chase your dreams, JOY to fill your holidays.”—D.M. Dellinger 

“Do what you do. This Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Twelfth Night, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, St. Paddy’s Day and every day henceforth. Just do what you do. Live out your life and your traditions on your own terms. If it offends others, so be it. That’s their problem.”—Chris Rose 

“Sound the trumpet of JOY and rebirth; let each of us try, with a song in our hearts, to bring peace on Earth.”—Mildred L. Jarrell 

“Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see JOY in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.”—Thomas S. Monroe 

“May your walls know JOY, may every room hold laughter and every window open to great possibility.”—Mary Anne Radmacher 

“The JOY of brightening other lives, bearing each other’s burdens, easing others’ loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of Christmas.”—W.C. Jones 


A proper British Christmas dinner must have “crackers,” those festively wrapped, tube-shaped presents at each plate. “Crackers” have been a HOLIDAY JOY throughout the Commonwealth since 1850. They make a “crackle” sound when you pull them apart. Inside are a little toy, a paper crown which one dons for the din-din and a joke—preferably a rawtha lousy joke. I snared these for your Scrooge-y pleasure from a UK website: 

What do you call a grasshopper who forgot the words to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas?” A “hum” bug. 

What is the best Christmas present for a bad kid? A broken drum, you can’t beat it. 

One of Santa’s elves won the lottery. He’s Welfy. 

Why should you go to a tree farm this holiday? To do your Christmas chopping. 

Santa didn’t have to pay for his sleigh. It was on the house. 

My dog got sick from eating Christmas ornaments. He has Tinsilitis. 


Dec. 17—Pope Francis 

Dec. 18—Steven Spielberg 

Dec. 19—Cicely Tyson 

Dec. 20—Elsie de Wolfe 

Dec. 21—Ray Romano 

Dec. 22—Lady Bird Johnson 

Dec. 23—Madam C. J. Walker 


(Source: allrecipes.com) 

Each week, “The JOYrontologist” shares a recipe which salutes a healthy food produced in America. The delicious and nutritious collection is called “The S.U.N.S. Longevity Cookbook” and highlights vitamin B-3 (niacin) which many gerontologists believe holds the promise for a long, healthy, joyful life. 


  • 6 refrigerated, cool apples 
  • 6 wooden craft sticks 
  • Cooking spray 
  • 1 (14 oz.) package of individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped 
  • 2 tbsp. milk 


  1. Remove the stem from each apple and press a craft stick into the top. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. 
  1. Place caramels and milk in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave for 2 minutes, stirring once. Set aside to cool briefly. 
  1. Roll each apple quickly in caramel sauce until well-coated. Place on prepared sheet to set. 

“The JOYrontolgist” RECOMMENDS grown-ups pairing caramel apples with a tawny port sipping wine. These wines have raisin and caramel flavors reminiscent of old-fashioned Christmas cakes. Consider a medium-sweet Portuguese tawny port from Quinta do Infantado. 


1,017. Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Sacred Heart Church 

1,018. “Christmas Island” with Jimmy Buffett singing and Margaritas 

1,019. Christmas cookies and socks for the homeless in Downtown Birmingham 

1,020. Christmas carrots for reindeer on our farm 

1,021. Christmas games with friends at the “party barn” 

1,022. Christmas bawling with a department store Santa in Decatur 

1,023. Christmas Day bird hunting with my new BB gun 

1,024. Christmas Day bird counting with the Audubon Society 

1,025. Christmas candy-making with my otherwise, health-conscious mom 

1,026. Christmas candle-pouring for 5,000 guests at the Governor’s Mansion 

1,027. Christmas clogging-dancers at a country place in Blount County 

1,028. Christmas with my infant son 

1,029. Christmas snow in festive Paris, France 

1,030. “Christmas Sunday,” proclaimed by Governor Ivey and the anthem I co-wrote with Henry Scott 


Read all the installments in this series at www.cullmantribune.com/tag/odes-to-joy-2022.