Thanksgiving has long been the traditional beginning of the Christmas season, but this year, people are putting up lights and Christmas trees sooner.
One possible link is "pandemic fatigue" where people are tired of their lives being dictated by COVID-19, which seemingly has no end in sight. The City of Fort Smith posted on social media Tuesday about this phenomenon along with urging people to keep fighting against it by washing their hands, keeping their distance and wearing masks.
Another possibility is that people are looking for a distraction from the difficulties of 2020. Putting up decorations gives people something to do that does not compromise social distancing guidelines.
Even the City of Fort Smith has engaged in the early festivities, announcing on Monday that it was turning on the Parks and Recreation Department lights early this year.
Historically, these lights have been turned on the night after Thanksgiving, but this year, they will be turned on Nov. 23, the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Since 1993, the lights have been put up in Creekmore Park and even though they will not be running the small train this year, the city hopes that just as many people will enjoy the lights and park.
Fort Smith clinical psychologist Donala K. Jordan has his own perspective.
"From the pandemic to politics, it is easy to see how these experiences have adversely affected meaningful interactions with others, consequently giving credence to a real sense of fear or psychological distress," Jordan writes.
Jordan noted the strong connection to spiritual wellness as a reason for people drawing in the Christmas season earlier than usual. According to Jordan, "spiritual wellness is supported by the most research," meaning there are strong connections to that area with overall wellness.
In concluding his thoughts, Jordan said, "Since most people in the world ascribe to some version a faith tradition, the upcoming Christmas season (in addition to decorative trimmings) may serve a visible representation of hope and agency, while functioning as an access point to longstanding faith traditions which proffer spiritual wellness and buffer psychological distress in still uncertain times."
Driving around looking at the lights is a time-honored tradition in Arkansas. But this year it takes on a different element: COVID relief.
The South Logan County Chamber of Commerce is among the many now encouraging the spread of Christmas cheer through Christmas lights. They are putting together a competition in Booneville to make it more interesting.
"This year everybody needs a little bit more joy," says Philip Blankenship, vice-chair of the South Logan County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. "Christmas lights are something you can do that‘s not just about what you’re getting, but just being with your family. what better way to deal with all of this than to drive around and look at the Christmas lights ... It’s something we can all be positive about."
The winner gets $400. Second place gets $200. And third place gets $100.
"The biggest issue is getting people to see what we’re trying to accomplish, but the goal is to draw people into downtown," Blankenship said.
To get signed up on the Booneville Christmas Lights Map, send name, address, phone number to email@example.com.
The lighting of the Logan County Courthouse in Booneville was Saturday, Nov. 21.