We have grown wearily used to “holiday creep,” that irritating tendency of retailers to start decorating for various holidays well before they begin: jack-o-lanterns in mid-September (or even, in some cases, July), Valentine’s chocolates in early January, Easter candy a few days before Valentine’s Day.
In my corner of the country they start running Labor Day sales in mid-July and Fourth of July sales in early June. But no creep is more aggressive than that of Christmas; no holiday spills its traditional temporal confines and works its way as aggressively up the calendar as this one. The season now regularly lasts up to eight or nine weeks where it used to span maybe five.
The problem, which has been around in varying degrees for over a century, is getting worse, and qualitatively so: where the shopping season used to start relatively early, the aesthetics of that season have begun arriving sooner and sooner each year. In some cases, stores have put out the trees and the stockings before Halloween.
A radio station in Chicago began playing Christmas music on November 7 this year; outlets in Los Angeles and Phoenix followed soon after, and doubtlessly they were not the only ones. The other day I found myself in a Wal-Mart already decked out with tinsel and candy canes—still a couple of weeks from Thanksgiving, mind you. Last week I saw one of those Salvation Army Santas ringing his donation bell outside of a grocery store. This is not uncommon.
Are We Really That Desperate?
There is something desperate and mildly pathetic about this whole charade. The socialists among us are always going on about “consumerism,” which they believe to be the natural and inevitable outgrowth of the abundance of material goods capitalism produces. Mostly they are wrong. But one is tempted to give them some credit when October 28 rolls around and we start seeing Christmas trees in the local mall’s food court. Retailers, who in their defense are in the business of making a buck, never seem more vapid, greedy, and ridiculous than when they are stringing up lights while the leaves are still changing.
It has become a tradition to complain about Christmas creep. But there are good reasons for complaining about it, and doing something about it: it is ruining the holiday.
This phenomenon is not, of course, ruining the holyday, the celebration of Christ’s birth that all orthodox Christians rightfully mark and herald. If tomorrow our cultural Christmas traditions disappeared, nothing about the sacred and precious mystery of December 25 would change. But the public, secular holiday—the warm, flashy, comforting, low-key, and innocent decadence of those few short weeks in December—is not worth nothing, either. Its worth is tied precisely to its being a relatively brief and fleeting affair.
Brevity Is Part of What Makes Christmas So Good
In the brevity of the Christmas season lies its beauty and its sweet wonder. It is similar to how, for many people, the beach is a special vacation spot but not a particularly desirable place to live: limiting the pleasures of certain things to a short period of the year generally makes those things much more enjoyable.
We instinctively understand this, which is why we are so happy to complain when Target starts playing the “Charlie Brown Christmas” theme in early November. Yet we do nothing. We continue to reward these outlets with our hard-earned dollars even as they smack us in the face with this ever-growing and ever-more-enervating Yuletide blitz.
I would like to make a modest proposal: push back against this phenomenon. Do not limit yourself to merely grumbling about the early music, sleighs, and lights. If a radio station or television network starts offering Christmas media before Thanksgiving, do not tune in. Avoid, to as much a degree as is reasonably possible, stores that roll out the decorations too early.
If you must shop at such a store, cheerfully and politely complain to the manager about the decorations. Reward businesses that don’t start decorating so early: let the manager or the cashier know how pleased you are with their admirable restraint. Wait until after Thanksgiving to get a tree.
Remember, in other words, that Christmas is by necessity supposed to be brief, transitory, here and gone in a quick and dazzling flash of red and green and white. We will be much happier, and more relaxed, and more cheerful, if we relegate the Christmas season to the short few weeks that make it so special. Do not let the shallow and useless praxis of the modern holiday economy ruin what is supposed to be, lest we forget, the most wonderful time of the year.