Culture and trends

Christmas, cosiness, comfort: Why nostalgia is fuelling Gen Z events

Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
November 10, 2023
Last updated
January 23, 2024

What this article covers

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In 60 seconds...

  • Gen Z events, such as birthdays and Christmas, are being increasingly fuelled by nostalgia thanks to the chaos and intensity of modern life
  • Young people are using TikTok to share their favourite memories from the past
  • Storytelling is crucial for brands who want to engage Gen Z. Lead them on a journey of discovery and interest

Do you think the festive season is for parties, prosecco and presents? You fool! For Gen Z, ‘tis the season of cosiness and comfort. 

Don't worry, the glitz, glam and gift giving of the holidays isn’t gone forever, but this year young people are craving the excitement and simplicity of their childhood Christmases and are indulging in one another’s memories on TikTok. 

But why is nostalgia such a strong sentiment for Gen Z events and why is it important to this generation? And which brands have bottled this wholesome Christmas spirit and sprinkled it over their ads? Read on to find out…

A medium shot of three young women wearing warm casual clothing,  in Newcastle Upon Tyne. They are walking down an alley in the city linked in with each other, talking and having a laugh.

From birthdays to Christmas, nostalgia fuels Gen Z events

Ultimately, young people are seeking connection and reassurance. They’re living through a time of wars, financial crises, climate change and political unrest - all of which are documented on social media. These digital natives are growing up with the world at their finger tips, for good and for bad. 

Childhood Christmases connote safety and happiness - a time when Gen Zers were being looked after by ‘real adults’ in the family home, without the distraction and overstimulation of social media. Think Christmas carols, Santa Claus and falling asleep surrounded by empty Quality Street wrappers (actually, we still do that now).

And this feeling doesn't just apply Christmas, but to Gen Z events in general; increasingly, young people are throwing ‘traditional’ birthday parties - think party hats, cakes and games. Some are even hiring bouncy castles. Nothing will ever come close to the exhausted happiness that they felt at their fifth birthday party, but they’re more than willing to try.

This isn’t just something that they’re seeking from their experiences, but from the marketing and brands they consume too. Our research revealed that 51% of UK Gen Zers and 58% from the US want to see nostalgia in festive marketing.

pov it’s Christmas in the early 2000s

Naturally, we’re seeing this nostalgia across TikTok, with thousands of users taking to the platform to reminisce over Christmas in the early 00s. Whether this is just to deliver a short rush of wholesomeness before they continue to scroll through their FYP or to serve as inspiration for this year’s overall vibe, it’s everywhere. There’s even an AI filter that Christmas-ifies your surroundings.

For the #christmas2000s trend, which currently has 23.6M videos, users share slideshows and video compilations of their favourite early 00s Christmas memories. Popular images including brightly coloured tinsel on trees, school nativity plays and Christmas crafts, and all are captioned ‘pov it’s Christmas in the early 2000s’. Festive ads from the noughties are even resurfacing; in other words, expect to see John Lewis’ boxer-dog-on-trampoline ad doing the rounds again in 2043.

Comments on the videos are revealing, ranging from ‘violently sobbing rn’ to ‘The feeling back then was just different in the best of ways.’ One user even wrote ‘It physically pains me that Christmas will never feel this way again’. Kind of tragic, but also kind of wholesome? 

3 brands celebrating the Christmas season with nostalgia

1. Barbour (2022)

Sorry, but what’s not to love about a marmalade-eating bear from Peru?

Barbour’s 2022 Christmas ad, ‘One of a Kind-ness’, saw everyone’s favourite bear, Paddington, delivering a Barbour jacket to the local miserable neighbour, Mr Curry. And as if the heartwarming message wasn’t enough, the ad’s illustrations were handpainted to mimic the original drawings. Nostalgia in full force here, folks. 

Barbour’s ad was the perfect example of a brand whose products aren’t necessarily targeted to Gen Z, but they’ve taken the opportunity to build brand awareness nonetheless.

2. Coca Cola 

All hail Coca-Cola, the kings of Christmas. 

Every year, the jingling of the Coca Cola truck bells hit us right in the feels, and the retro look of the campaigns makes them staples in young people's Christmas calendars.

Last year, the brand wasn’t satisfied with just providing that warm and fuzzy feeling; they also celebrated the truck’s ninth tour by creating a Holiday Hub Digital Experience. 

3. McDonalds (2021)

McDonalds dropped this absolute tearjerker in 2021 and many of us still haven't recovered. 

The ad follows Matilda and her imaginary friend, Iggy, who is left behind as she grows up... until she’s eventually reminded of him during a trip to her local McDonalds. The teen then runs home to find her friend in the back of the wardrobe, where they reunite and enjoy the Christmas Eve tradition of putting out treats for Santa and the reindeer. 

Reminding them of the bittersweet feeling of growing up, Gen Zers bawled their eyes out at this one.

Honourable mention goes to John Lewis, whose ads are now a thing of Christmas legend along with mince pies and Mariah Carey. We don’t have all day so couldn’t mention every one, but let’s just say that the Elton John year was our favourite.

Why is nostalgia marketing important for brands?

  • Tapping into nostalgia and childhood experiences will create a positive brand association for Gen Z consumers. This is something that goes above and beyond just driving sales, and will sit very well with them 
  • Whilst you can’t recreate childhood Christmases for your Gen Z consumers, be sure to focus on what it is about those times that they crave. Often, it’s connection, simplicity and comfort. 
  • Storytelling is key. Gen Zers are no longer children, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the excitement of the season. Create a story and lead them on a magical journey.

Like what you’ve read? Visit our Festive Hub now for more tips, takeaways and insights to make this holiday season the best one yet!

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