Sounds like Christmas!

We’ve all heard the song, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – but for many of us, it’s also beginning to SOUND a lot like Christmas! There are various emotive sounds relating to the festive period, sparking feelings of happiness and joy as soon as we hear them.

Have you ever wondered why certain sounds make us feel happy or sad, or one of a whole range of other emotions? Scientists have certainly wondered and as a result, they have carried out studies to find out what the link is between sound and emotion.

Numerous different studies have suggested that our hearing and emotional processes are closely linked, with our emotions being affected by the way our brains process the sounds that we hear.

Christmas singing

© Prostock-studio / Adobe Stock


What are sounds?

Sounds are waves that “touch” us, according to scientists. Resonating air travels through space and time. The sound waves enter into our ear drum as vibrating, diffused air. Tiny pulsating bones transmit the vibration into the part of the ear containing tiny hairs.

The hair cells then become active when they are literally bent by the sound wave – scientists describe the hairs as bending “like trees in a breeze”.

We hear the sounds when the cells in our inner ear transform the vibrations from a sound wave into a neural message that’s sent to our brain – which then processes the vibrations and categorises them as sound.


Sounds and our emotions

Sounds are catalogued emotionally in our brain. Emotions are linked to perception, with our emotional responses helping us to deal with reality.

A simple example of the process is how certain sounds might indicate a potentially dangerous situation, sparking a fear response, which helps us to act quickly to escape a potential hazard. Once we’ve experienced a certain sound, our brain stores the information so that it can be used again at a later date.

A particular sound creates “sensory information” combined with “emotional information”, giving us a memory of the feeling that the sound provoked last time we heard it. The dual information is stored in our auditory cortex as a combined bundle.

The sound has an emotional meaning, so that when we hear it again, we are reminded of this feeling.

If we were fond of a particular song at a certain time in our life, such as a romantic love song when we experienced our first heartbreak, every time we hear the song again, it will remind us of the pangs of emotion we felt in our youth.

If a song or a sound makes us feel happy, it causes our brain to release a chemical called dopamine into our system. This gives us a pleasant feeling.

Scientific research on subjects who listened to a particularly great piece of music noted that it made their hairs stand on end, or gave them the chills. A scan at the time measured the increased amount of dopamine released. This reaction explains why certain sounds that we associate with Christmas make us feel happy.


Christmas carols

Christmas has plenty of unique sounds, including carols. The festive holiday season is defined by the music we listen to. The sound of carols being sung (particularly by a professional choir) can bring joy to listeners, reminding them of Christmases gone by.

For people who are regular church-goers, hearing carols can remind them of the true meaning of Christmas, conjuring up memories of going to Midnight Mass, or relaxing while watching Christmas church services on television. For some, carols will evoke memories of school days and singing at morning assembly, or watching carol singers performing at shopping malls, or in the streets.


Festive sounds

There’s far more to a traditional Christmas than carols – other sounds that aren’t musical can conjure up strong memories and feelings too.

The sound of logs crackling on an open fire can stimulate feelings of warmth and contentment – often a feeling shared when we are together with the family.

Christmas Day wouldn’t be the same without the Queen’s Speech – something that people everywhere make a point of turning on at 3pm. It’s a tradition that began in 1932, when King George V’s speech was first broadcast on the radio. Sitting quietly together, while reflecting on the events of the past year, many people associate the Queen’s Speech with older relatives – as they recall a sense of hush descending on the revelry, as grandparents “shushed” the kids to hear what Her Majesty had to say!

Instilling a feeling of excitement at the prospect of the festivities ahead, the sound of sleigh bells (that can be heard on many a Christmas advert) remind us of Santa and his reindeer-drawn sleigh.

Celebratory sounds include Christmas crackers being pulled and popping champagne corks – signalling a time for fun and laughter!

Excitement vibrates around the house, with the rustling and ripping of wrapping paper on Christmas morning confirming that Santa has been, and that Christmas is well and truly here.

Sounds and emotions are closely linked, and our hearing is important to gather and store information, thus enriching our personal experiences as we travel through life – not only at Christmas, but in our everyday life.

Sound Planning specialises in the design, supply and installation of sound enclosures and noise control products throughout the UK. Please contact us for further information on our products and services.

The Sound Planning team would like to wish you all a very Sound Christmas and a Happy New Year!


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