The Everlasting Echo of ‘Where Has the Year Gone?’ – A Christmas Tale as Old as Time

An Australian landscape painting from the 1800s, featuring a scene with an old Caucasian woman standing inside a rustic wooden house.

Meet Doris, an extraordinary old lady, who, like clockwork, exclaims each December, “Can’t believe it’s Christmas already!” This statement, as predictable as the festive season itself, has become a staple in yuletide lore. Doris, who has been uttering these words for as long as anyone can remember, seems genuinely surprised each year, despite the calendar’s consistent behaviour.

Her family and friends have taken a fond, if bemused, attitude towards Doris’s annual declaration. Local baker, Bob, says, “It’s like the official announcement that Christmas is here. Doris says it, and we all start our holiday prep.” Teenager Emily quips, “I’ve started a game where I guess the exact date and time she’ll say it. Got it right two years in a row!”

But what if there’s more to Doris’s exclamation than meets the ear? Scientists have been exploring a phenomenon that might just explain why every year feels shorter to Doris – and to many of us as we age. It turns out, our perception of time is indeed relative to our age.

A year for a 10-year-old child, for instance, is a whopping 10% of their life. However, for someone like Doris, who’s a sprightly 80 years young, a year is merely 1/80th of her life. This diminishing proportion could explain why as we age, each year seems to slip by quicker than the last. It’s not that time is speeding up; it’s that each year is a smaller slice of our total life experience.

Psychologists suggest that the richness of new experiences in childhood and early adulthood also contributes to this sensation. As we age, fewer novel experiences can lead to a feeling of time speeding up. Our brains don’t record familiar routines as meticulously as novel events, making time seem to fly by in retrospect.

So, next time you hear someone, perhaps yourself, exclaim in disbelief, “Can’t believe it’s Christmas already!”, spare a thought for the curious way our minds perceive time. And  give a nod to Doris, the unwitting spokesperson for this universal phenomenon.

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