Christmas Creep… Or, I’d Like My Holidays Served Separately, Please

The anxiety’s picking up, debates are front and center, and posts on the topic have gone viral. It’s clear we’ve got a big problem and it ain’t about politicians, global warming, or radioactive sushi. What is it, you ask?

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Christmas Creep.

Yep. It’s big, it’s bad, and, frankly, it’s too late, cuz, odds are, it’s already taken over your town.

I know you’ve heard the protests; they’re loud, clear, and to the point. Pleas to hold off on the Christmas bombardment before we’ve barely retired ghosts and goblins. Entreaties to wait on carolers and candy canes until we’ve had a chance to fully experience pumpkin pie and a well-roasted gobbler. There’s even a petition going around denouncing stores that will be open all day Thanksgiving, thereby robbing employees of a chance to be with family in the retail rush to kick Black Friday off on Thursday.

Protest away, folks. There’s no stopping this snowball.

It may be inexorable, but it wasn’t always like this. No, there used to be a delicious timing to it all, a careful unfolding that drove us mad with anticipation but was all part of the fun. When I was a kid, the turning of leaves and quickening of the cold were signals that we’d left the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer to move into the next and most exciting time of the year: the much-vaunted, adrenaline-inducing, just-can’t-wait holiday season.

As it started and the various days of celebration rolled out like a cavalcade of stars, we’d ready with our well-marked boxes of decorations and the traditions for each that we knew and loved. It started with costumes and the dizzying sweetness of Halloween, rounded the corner into warm Thanksgiving gatherings, then, depending on religion and ethnicity, there was Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa to fill the month of December, with Christmas, clearly, the seasonal headliner. The slow, well-paced build-up allowed us to relish one flavor, so to speak, before moving on to the next.

These days?

It’s like sitting down to a six-course meal and having every single course dumped on the table at the same time. No consideration for the pleasures of each item and, sorry, palate cleansers not allowed. I saw Christmas decorations in a hardware store in September and by early October a few retail shops actually had decorated trees hip-checking the Halloween displays off center stage. Come ON, people!

I get being prepared, but isn’t there a limit? I actually have a neighbor who not only begins her Christmas shopping in June, but takes great pride in announcing to anyone who’ll listen that, “I got it all done, wrapped, and ready to go before Labor Day!” Holiday spirit as competitive sport. Thanks, but I’ll take my summers with lemonade and sunburn; you go ahead and get Santa involved.

While certainly this rush to rush things has been building over the years, somewhere along the line, like an unseen hitch in the rate of the earth’s rotation, it picked up speed, so much so that the notion of holiday differentiation is almost moot at this point. Look, I’m old enough to remember the creaky maxim about “no white after Labor Day” so this conflation of celebration does not go unnoticed. And when I see the Three Kings of Orient are at Costco before the kids have even stopped arguing about who’s going to be Buzz Lightyear, I feel a shudder in the time/space continuum.

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What’s odd about this acceleration is that most people claim they don’t like it. SOASTA, Inc., a leader in cloud and mobile testing, found last year that 75% of those polled didn’t want to see Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving, with 78% objecting to even hearing the music before then. This year?

In a survey of 2,038 Americans age 18 and older, in which data was weighted to be representative of the entire country, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of SOASTA, discovered that 81 percent of American adults think stores should not play Christmas music before Thanksgiving—up from 78 percent of American adults when SOASTA conducted the survey last year.

In addition, 77 percent of American adults think stores shouldn’t put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving—up from 76 percent last year.

A similar poll at NPR – albeit a non-scientific one –  found numbers skewed even higher when the question was asked about “Christmas creep” before Halloween: a full 82.11% of respondents said they didn’t want to see anything “Christmasy” that early in the season. There’s actually a Facebook page called “No Christmas Before Thanksgiving” where users bemoan everything from Santa’s early arrival to the latest transgression – Black Friday actually starting on Thanksgiving Thursday – and still, still, the beat goes on.

What gives? If so many people resent the rush, why is it picking up speed?

Macy's Christmas Balls_smWe all know, don’t we? It’s retail that’s the “industry behind the curtain,” twirling dials and ratcheting up promotions to get people the in the doors as early as possible. With holiday shoppers creating almost 20% of a store’s annual income, it’s not a hard formula to fathom: more days to spend money, more money spent. And this particular year, given when Thanksgiving falls, there are actually fewer shopping days than last year between the two holidays, and, dear God, that’s causing panic in the streets!!

OK, maybe not panic, but clearly retailers have made note of the deficit and are raising the stakes in response. I swear to God, if they could have gotten away with it, 4th of July banners would have been wrapped around Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Of course, not everyone hates this holiday hash. According to some, they want to get the heavy lifting done as quickly as possible so they can spend the true 12 days of Christmas wrapped in quirky sweaters humming “Little Drummer Boy” as they assemble the gingerbread house. Others just can’t get enough of Christmas cheer, whenever it comes. Me?

It’s not so much the rushing; it’s more the conflating. I don’t want my Halloween goblins pre-empted by Christmas trees. I want to enjoy the orange and browns of Thanksgiving before I see green and red everywhere. And once we get past turkey and stuffing, I want to, very slowly and selectively, relish each separate, specific element and tradition of our Christmas.

Since there’s little we, the people, can do about what retailers put into motion, it’s up to each of us to design our own holidays, cultural pressure be damned. If you’re okay with the rush, enjoy it. But if you’re like me and want to slow things down enough to actually experience one holiday before we steamroll onto the next, you’ll just have to set your boundaries. Which means putting on blinders and exercising serious self-control (a good Christmas cookie is hard to resist no matter what time of year!).

Around here, no decorations are pulled out until the previous holiday has been joyfully exhausted and packed away. We avoid Christmas candy until the pumpkin pie is gone. And don’t talk to me about Black Friday because we’ll still be reveling in the true meaning of Thanksgiving. (I’m not kidding… get away from me with that credit card and those wild-eyed sales schedules.)

It can be done. You can ignore what’s being foisted and partake only when and where you see fit. There is no mandate to march to the madness. They can dangle the decorations and crank out the carols but the power is in your hands.

I hope you had a delightful Halloween, I wish you a beautiful, warm, and appreciative Thanksgiving, but I’m not talkin’ any more about Christmas until next month.

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