Danish brain study locates ‘Christmas Spirit’

Danish researchers have identified the parts the brain which light up when subjects see images associated with Christmas, as part of a project to help the millions who suffer "a Christmas spirit deficiency – or the ‘bah humbug’ syndrome".

Danish brain study locates 'Christmas Spirit'
Danish flags adorn a Christmas tree. Photo: Bill Smith/Flickr
The study, published in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal, included 20 people, half of whom had never celebrated Christmas.
Based on the interviews the participants were divided into a “Christmas group” who had positive associations with Christmas, and the “non-Christmas group” who were indifferent and did not celebrate.
The participants were then shown a succession of Christmassy and neutral images, while having their brains scanned.
Five areas of the brain lit up in the participants from the Christmas group, including parts associated with spirituality, physical senses, and the recognition of facial emotion.
In the study, the researchers, led by Anders Hougaard of the Danish Headache Center and Department of Neurology at the University of Copenhagen, write that they wished to help the “millions’ who have a Christmas spirit deficiency – or the ‘bah humbug’ syndrome.”
“Accurate localisation of the Christmas spirit is a paramount first step in being able to help this group of patients,” they wrote. 
The researchers said that the Christmas spirit could not be scientifically explained in its entirety.
“Although merry and intriguing, these findings should be interpreted with caution,” they wrote. “Something as magical and complex as the Christmas spirit cannot be fully explained by, or limited to, the mapped brain activity alone.”
They called for further research to determine in what way the Christmas spirit differed from other festive emotions.
“Comparative studies of these patterns will also be imperative in studying other seasonal disturbances, related to, for example, Easter, Chanukah, or Diwali,” they concluded.


Will anywhere in France get a white Christmas this year?

A white Christmas might be at the top of many people's festive wish list but will it actually come true for anyone in France this year?

Haut-Koenigsbourg castle in Orschwiller, eastern France.
Haut-Koenigsbourg castle in Orschwiller, eastern France. Non-mountainous parts of the country will not see snow this year. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

If you’re in France and have been dreaming of a white Christmas, you are probably out of luck. 

It has been freezing in recent days with temperatures falling to a low of -33.4C in Jura on Wednesday morning, but the cold spell isn’t going to last. 

Temperatures across the country will hover around the 10C level in most of France by the afternoon on December 25th according to Météo France, with parts of the country including Brittany and some parts of eastern France experiencing rainfall. 

By the afternoon on Christmas Day, the chances of snow look extremely limited. Source:

On Saturday, there will be some snowfall, but only if you are high in the mountains at an altitude of 1,800-2,000m. On Sunday, places above 1,500m could also see snow – but this rules out the vast majority of the country. 

Roughly half the country will see sunshine over the weekend. The French weather channel said that this Christmas could be among the top five or six warmest since 1947. 

Last year, Météo France cautioned: “While we often associate snow with Christmas in the popular imagination, the probability of having snow in the plains [ie not in the mountains] during this period is weak in reality.”

One of the last great Christmas snowfalls, outside of France’s mountainous areas, came in 2010 when 3-10 cm of snow fell in Lille, Rouen and Paris. In Strasbourg, 26cm fell. 

On Christmas Day in 1996, 12 cm of snow fell in Angers – ironically, this was also the day that the film, Y’aura t’il de la neige à Noël? (Will there never be snow at Christmas?) was released. It had been ten years since France had seen such snowfall outside of the Alps and Pyrenees. 

Météo France directly attributes declining rates of Christmas snowfall to climate change. Compared to 50 years ago, even the Alps receives the equivalent one less month of snowfall per year.