Christmas Creep in August


Xmas XcessOn August 22, we got the Sears “Christmas Wish” catalogue delivered to our home. It was a sunny, hot day that almost reached 30C. The sprinkler was watering the garden while we enjoyed a cold beer on the porch, sitting in shorts and T-shirts.

The last thing I wanted on my mind was winter. But there it was, two pounds of wildly-inappropriate seasonal shopping choices, refusing to be ignored. As welcome as a fart in a crowded elevator.

It seems every year “Christmas Creep” advances down the calendar, earlier and earlier. Last year I heard Xmas music in stores on November 1, right after Hallowe’en. I was told that canned Xmas crap played on November 11 – while we stood in silence during the Remembrance Day memorial service – in stores where no one takes a mere two minutes of silence to remember our veterans.

That’s seriously ugly and not a little demented. Are we so shallow, our values so twisted that we can’t stop marketing, can’t stop advertising and promoting for a mere two minutes of respect? This egregious commercialism is eroding our values, like the inexorable ocean waves erode the shoreline.

The Urban Dictionary defines Christmas Creep as:

Universally hated, market driven phenomenon that if left unchecked will eventually culminate in an uninterrupted decade of concatenated carol medleys, closely followed by a glorious moment of frantic arson destroying every Christmatastasized mall in America.

Add Canada into that definition, please. I’d call for boycotts, but it seems too tame after that.

Shoppers heard Xmas carols blaring through stores on Oct 27, in the American city of Frederick, in 2010, spurring customer complaints. Didn’t stop everyone from maxing out their credit cards, it seems.

That’s not the earliest, by the way. But shoppers may be getting immune to the hypocrisy, to the calendrical backstep that brings Xmas shopping earlier every year.

One day soon, I expect, we’ll hear Xmas music in stores right after Labour Day. Think I’m crazy? Groupon had “beat the holiday rush” coupons out in July, and Costco had Xmas decorations on display this August!

Despite what the calendar says to the contrary, summer is over for many retailers and Christmas Creep is in full swing.

In Australia, though, Charles Areni, a professor of marketing thinks getting out the Xmas decorations and playing the music the sooner the better is good for sales:

“Christmas carols are a very specific genre. They’re in a major key, they have nostalgic value, they have a reasonably fast tempo – generally they’re pretty happy. With Christmas carols it’s very much about getting people to think about buying Christmas gifts, so they have a very specific purpose.”

In addition, music is specially chosen to appeal to a shop’s target market. If people like the music, they are more likely to stay longer in the shop – the longer they stay, the more likely they are to make a purchase or spend more money.

You know, there is more to business than sales. More than money. How about a little integrity?

I’ve worked retail, so I know how important the holiday season is to the big picture of annual sales. But this invasive marketing is crass and crude, a bludgeon, not a scalpel. TV ads, piped-in music, decorations, shameless exploitation of Dickens’s characters and religious icons – we’re inundated long before the snow comes (more than four months for the Sears catalogue).

It’s simply and utterly offensive.

It’s still summer here, fergawdsake, for another whole month of beer-on-the-porch weather. We haven’t even started fall, school’s not even back and already we’re being dunned by Xmas catalogues! Did Monty Python write this illogical and fatuous script?

Imagine if they started back-to-school marketing at the end of April – four months before the event. Some kids would have a really depressing summer if their parents were outfitting them for classes even before they’d written their final exams to end the current year.

Oh, by the way – some American retaillers started their back-to-school promotions in early July, a week after schools closed! Back-to-school creep, they call it.

As a time of year, Xmas offends me in many ways – all of them to do with marketing, promotion, commercialism, exploitation and greed. Not for faith or family. It used to be a religious holiday, and even for those of a non-religious bent, it used to be a time when family and close friends shared one another’s company.

I can’t remember when it was last that simple and enjoyable. I like the companionship, the closeness of friends and family, I like giving gifts, but I resist being encouraged to spend, spend, spend. A gift is a token of affection, it isn’t the affection itself. It’s not a substitute for love, for family values, for appreciation. A gift at Xmas should mean no more or less than a gift any other day of the year.

Today the season is a blitzkrieg by retails stores, by fast food chains, by franchises and hucksters trying to con an increasingly cynical public that we need to spend, spend, spend to enjoy the season. Family, or the simple joys of companionship, all take a backseat to commercialism. Pump out the ads, suck in the money.

Exploit mercilessly the fear that people will be less loved, less valuable, less appreciated, that parents are not doing their job if they don’t spend beyond their means and cater to the ad-driven mania of their TV-raised children.*

Okay, as a non-believer, I’m a hard one to get into the “holiday mood.” It takes at least a foot of snow to make me even think about winter, about holidays, about in-laws and presents. But does this egregious marketing ever put anyone in the mood?

I personally would have suspected this Christmas Creep encourages more cynicism, crass commercialism and bad manners. Not to mention bad personal economics (overspending, increased debt, false sense of value).

Spend until you drop is not particularly wise, nor will it actually create happiness, fellowship, comfort, peace of mind, success, family togetherness or well-being. It will deplete your bank account, max out your credit cards and fuel a buy-more race to impress people with material goods. That just rubs against my grain and all the Buddhist scriptures I’ve read.

But, says a CNBC story, for some it just encourages more spending sooner, which in turn encourages retaillers into gearing up to push it earlier and earlier, a vicious feedback cycle:

Nearly four in 10 parents with children under the age of 18 begin their holiday shopping before November, according to a recent study of more than 1, 600 subscribers to couponing website RetailMeNot.com.

“The reality is that holiday shopping is officially in full swing, ” said Jill Balis, senior vice president of marketing at WhaleShark Media, the operator of RetailMeNot.com.

The group has even gone so far as to trademark a term for the phenomenon, “OctoNovemCember, ” and it plans to center a new marketing campaign — complete with a mascot, the Pumpkin-Headed Turkey Claus — around the idea.

It sounds like a shark feeding frenzy but less mannered. I worked a popular Toronto game store during the Xmas season for a few years. I know how the buying mania takes hold and mesmerizes otherwise sane people into becoming mindless shoppers. I would prefer we delay that viral state at least until December.

How early is too early for Christmas Creep? How about June? Bob Canada tells us Xmas decorations were on display at his local Hobby Lobby store, June 11 this year! He noted somewhat sarcastically,

Mark my words: If this Christmas Creep isn’t stopped and soon, stores are gonna keep putting their holiday crap out earlier and earlier until we finally loop back around to December and we’ll be buying our Christmas 2014 stuff during Christmas 2013.

A Facebook page is dedicated to people who enjoy playing Xmas music in September and October.

Author Cynthia Ewers wrote,

The traditional two-week “Christmas season” has been replaced by an agonizingly-long “Christmas shopping season”–with NOTHING to follow but a few “Everything You Wanted, But Didn’t Get For Christmas, Is On Sale Now!” events. By stretching the “holiday season” to four months (five, if you count the “after Christmas” peddling of leftover gift wrap and shop-worn ornaments), retailers’ sales may increase–but real, live people face burst bubbles of expectation on the morning of December 25th. “Is this all there is?” we think, surveying the piles of shredded gift wrap.

Any parent knows the effect of this holiday distortion on children: my youngest son was so overwhelmed by the excitements and experiences of his two-year-old Christmas morning that all he could do was cling to me and cry…

Who gets what they want through the “whadjagit?” syndrome? Not the getters. Not the givers. The only winners are the ones left with the $$$ in the till–the retailers. It’s a marketing triumph, all right–but it’s also a recipe for personal and familial disappointment.

Maybe I’m just getting more cantankerous as I age**, but all this crass commercialism does for me is to send me into a tizzy of despair over the evaporation of our collective common sense. We exist, it often seems, in the crepuscular period where values, morality and wisdom are giving way to the dark night of commercialism, descending all too rapidly.

I know you can’t legislate values – no more than you can legislate taste, attitude, empathy, charity, civility and respect. If we could, some local bloggers would be hauled up in front of the magistrate to do some ‘splainin’. But we can personally and individually exercise some restraint and refuse to be caught up in the corporate-fed frenzy. Wait until December to put up your Xmas lights, wait until December to pump drearily saccharine Xmas music through the store speakers…

Don’t give in to Christmas Creep. Please. Don’t let the commercialism, the corporate greed and the crassness wipe out the better aspects of the holiday season. Help keep the spirit, not spoil it.

~~~~~
* Anyone else remember getting handmade gifts such as scarves, mitts and sweaters that meant more than anything today from Toys R Us or Walmart (or any other mass-produced, Chinese-made products)? Or getting an orange pierced by a hundred or more cloves in your stocking? A stick of Blackpool rock? A box of watercolour paints? Socks? Underwear? Walnuts? A Dinky toy? A Beano or Rupert magazine? Simple stuff. I would give a world of goods to have again that cribbage board my grandfather made, or a scarf my grandmother knitted.

** Yes, I am. But I like to believe I am also less easily swayed by appeals to my lower instincts.

One thought on “Christmas Creep in August


  1. Giving simply because it is right to give, without thought of return, at a proper time, in proper circumstances, and to a worthy person, is enlightened giving. Giving with regrets or in the expectation of receiving some favor or of getting something in return, is selfish giving.

    Bhagavad Gita 17.20-21