For Mary Nicotera, the Christmas season begins when she hears radio adverts for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a rock band best known for its dramatic holiday music. This year, she heard the ads for the first time in August.
“By the time November and December comes along, I’m already sick of Christmas,” says Nicotera, a vice president and senior bank manager at M&T Bank in western New York.
Many of us find Christmas creep annoying at best and maddening at worst
In the United States, Thanksgiving typically marks the start of the traditional holiday season and in western Europe, Christmas kicks off with the first Advent around the end of November or early December. But retail watchers agree that every year the Christmas season seems to start a little earlier, with stores putting up holiday displays and airing seasonal ads soon as four or five months before the actual holiday.
But many of us find Christmas creep annoying at best and maddening at worst.
“There is no live and let live when it comes to this subject,” says Kit Yarrow, a professor emerita of marketing and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. People had extreme reactions, including anger and panic, to “seeing Christmas trees before Halloween,” she says, referring to a study she conducted. “The fact that people do care means something deep is going on.”
Complaining about Christmas creep isn’t entirely new, according to Ana Serafin Smith, senior director of media relations at the National Retail Federation. Retailers have seen benefits of early ads as far back as the late 19th century, she says. But the volume of early Christmas has vastly increased.
We’re bombarded with messaging through a variety of media — think the dozens of memes a week in your Facebook feed decrying the dwindling weekends left until 25th December, radio ads, flyers in shops, online pop ups, store Santas and even the set-up of Christmas-only shops as early as September. What’s more, competition for our holiday spending has become fierce — which goes a long way to explain why we’re suffering from early Christmas onslaught.
“For some retailers it can make or break their entire year,” says Herbert Kleinberger, a professor at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University. Even tight-fisted consumers open up their wallets around the holidays, making it a crucial few months for retailers’ bottom-line numbers.
The last few years, holiday sales have been weak, prompting aggressive efforts to compete for limited consumer spending, Kleinberger says. And with most of us watching our wallet and setting our budgets for gifts early, retailers are starting earlier and earlier to grab their share.
Because that first move advantage does help many retailers, Kleinberger says that Christmas creep is a trend that will be around for years to come.
“I don’t see this changing anytime in the near term,” he says.
But the rush to the season has left many of us with a feeling that time is slipping away. We’re already time-pressed and juggling too many things at once. Christmas creep, experts say, also makes some of us feel robbed of not just time, but of our fond memories.
Christmas creep makes some of us feel robbed of not just time, but of our fond memories.
Part of Nicotera’s anger, for instance, is that nostalgia for an earlier time.
“The day after Thanksgiving, the whole world opened up and there was Christmas,” she recalls. “People today are missing that thrill — they are missing the awe and surprise.”
Indeed, the holidays are a deeply emotional and nostalgic time and many people feel like seeing Santa store displays in September cheapens the holiday, Yarrow says. Add to that, consumers who despise the creep also are offended at the idea of Christmas becoming commercialised and encroaching on family and religious time.
“They have a perception of the holiday that is Rockwellian,” she says referring to the American artist Norman Rockwell, who sentimentalised American culture. “They feel that the values of respecting tradition and holiday are violated” by Christmas bombardment when summer is still in full swing.
Finding a middle ground
Some retailers are taking note. US department store chain Nordstrom said in an email that it continues to close on Thanksgiving day to prepare holiday decorations in stores, display windows and online to be revealed the day after.
“The response from our customers is always very positive,” wrote a Nordstrom spokesperson. “We’ve heard from our customers that they appreciate our approach to celebrate one holiday at a time.”
And Australian retailer Myer takes a phased approach so as not to alienate shoppers. The Christmas trim department opens in mid-October with Santa arriving to the store in early November. By early December stores are fully decked out.
“[This] offers customers the ability to get into the Christmas spirit when it suits them,” wrote James Sheppard, general manager visual merchandise at Myer.
In some countries, though, consumers are more receptive to Christmas creep, notes Yarrow. She was in Finland one year at the end of November and found that because the sun sets so early that time of year, “people can’t wait for the lights to go up”.
Even Nicotera likes to get prepared for the holidays well in advance. Even though she waits until late November to put up Christmas decorations, “my Christmas cards are in the mail by Thanksgiving,” she says.
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