A sign on the door at Starbucks advised that hours on Christmas Day will be 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Good to know-but 60 days in advance? Inside the Paso Robles, Calif. store coffee was being served in festive green cups, although outside it was 82 degrees on a sunny fall afternoon.
Channel 4 in New York City was running a commercial for Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular: “A mesmerizing holiday tradition.” The mall in Tempe, Ariz. was playing “Holly Jolly Christmas.” An email from the NBA offered free shipping on basketball shirts from the “2016 Christmas Day Collection.”
A full-page ad by Lord & Taylor heralded the “unveiling” of its holiday windows. The Hallmark Channel was pumping out Christmas programming 24/7.
Too much, too soon? Humbug. There’s no stopping the retail-driven juggernaut to New Year’s Day that we now refer to as The Holiday Season.
It used to be that Christmas decorations went up the day after Thanksgiving, confining the merriment to roughly a month. Nowadays, on home shopping cable-TV channels it runs about six months, beginning with Christmas in July. For some retailers it starts after Labor Day, while the Scrooge-like holdouts wait until after Halloween.
The polling firm Penn Schoen Berland surveyed 1,000 consumers in late August and found that one-third of them had already started Christmas shopping or planned to by Labor Day. Among parents the figure was 50 percent.
Many factors contribute to what is known as Christmas creep, but clearly the condition is commerce-based, rather than being tied to faith or family. As more holiday buying takes place online-and 2016 might be the first year in which the figure reaches 50 percent of all sales-it has the unintended consequence of pushing the start of retail sales even earlier.
Trying to compete with online merchants, Walmart has already added “holiday helpers” to assist shoppers along with “selfie stations” and in-store toy demonstrations. Target has a “Wondershop” with several thousand seasonal items. Kmart and Toys R Us are promoting holiday deals designed to compete with online bargains.
As retailers expand the calendar their ads permeate newspapers and TV, adding to a premature holiday buzz. The shopping mall, which in many communities is the new Main Street, supports the merchants’ wishes by rushing holiday decorations. Kids see it all unfold, and the creep becomes a mad dash.
It’s axiomatic that people tend to expand a task to fill the time available to complete it. Given four months of holiday promotions, some shoppers willingly take four months to accomplish what might ordinarily get done in a week.
Moreover, does the commercial creep impact the interpersonal side of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah? At minimum it dilutes the holidays, blurring their deeper meanings.
The online site CreditCards.com did some research in September and found that about one million Americans had already completed their holiday shopping for 2016.
Yet, the rush to buy is clearly leaving some folks conflicted if not downright depressed about Christmas creep. The same research found that 74 percent of shoppers are annoyed that holiday sales start earlier than ever before.
A pharmacy in Sacramento pulled its Halloween merchandise two days early this year to meet a corporate directive about Christmas decorations. That, you’ll agree, is rather creepy.
Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com