Why your neighbor’s holiday decorations bring out the Grinch in you

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By Nicole Spector

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Colorful lights line rooftops and windows. Bristly wreaths hang on front doors, and you may spot a glow up Santa and his fleet of perfectly arched reindeer on your neighbors’ lawn.

You might be thinking, “Now? Already? It’s not even December!”

There’s ample debate about how soon is too soon to put up this seasonal décor. A poll by Home Depot found that the best date to begin sprucing your home with the holiday spirit is November 24. One study suggests that people who deck the halls earlier are doing a type of community service by communicating “friendliness and cohesiveness with neighbors.”

Regardless of timing though, holiday decorations don’t always have such a happy-making effect on us. As so many cynical memes (like this one) reflect, these neighborly gestures displaying festivity and joy can trigger judgmental reactions from those of us in a more bah-humbug frame of mind.

I’m one of those Grinch-types who will easily scoff at my neighbors’ extravagant holiday decorations. When I was a child, my mother was the same way, only more heated. You’d think our ambitious neighbors were setting their trees on fire rather than dressing them in tinsel and angels.

“Tacky”, “wasteful”, “show off”; these were the words my mom would yell out in the car as we drove by these very merry houses. Fortunately the windows were rolled up.

The holidays pile on pressure to show (and spend on) joy — and it’s stressful

My mother’s judgments may have been extreme, but mental health experts don’t find negative reactions to something so trivial and well meaning as yuletide lawn décor to be all that uncommon.

“I think the holidays for many people bring up so much stress about how we show our joy, our celebration, our levels of happiness,” says Dr. Neil Puri, a psychiatrist at The Menninger Clinic. “That may be through our outward displays of these emotions and how invested we are in this time. We get caught up in what gifts we have to give, in how to show our appreciation for others in the right way, and then we have so much to get done. It’s stressful.”

Seeing that our neighbors who have gone all out for the holidays not only reminds us of societal expectations to be dishing out cash and effort on this most wonderful time of the year, it also signals to us just how little time left we have to get everything done.

“I haven’t done anything yet and I just noticed myself looking at my neighbors’ [decorated] homes and thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Kelley Kitley, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, tells NBC News BETTER. “I became anxious. My first thought was ‘I am so behind.’”