It did not register at first.
I was walking through Macy’s last Sunday when I suddenly realized what I was hearing on the store’s speaker system. It was the Beach Boys’ “Little St. Nick,” which has the lyric, “Christmas comes this time each year.” In this case, “this time” was Nov. 3. The frost wasn’t even on the pumpkins I had yet to dispose of from Halloween just three days earlier.
Later, I turn on the TV and see a commercial for the Meijer’s retail chain in which a homeowner blowing autumn leaves off his front lawn is set upon by demented carolers. The tagline: “Christmas is closer than you think.” I change channels and there’s a commercial for Wal-Mart in which a woman possessed bursts into her home arms loaded with purchases and announces, “Christmas shopping is done.” Again; Nov. 3.
It does not take much to put me in the Christmas spirit. And I’m Jewish. All I need is Darlene Love’s annual performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on “Late Show with David Letterman,” the little Dutch girl scene from the original “Miracle on 34th Street,” and perhaps a sing-along to “The Three Little Dwarfs,” better known to Baby Boomers as “Hardrock, Coco and Joe.”
But we’re not even through the first week of November. Even for the most fervent egg-nogstics, that’s got to be a little too soon for “whoop-de-doo and Hickory Dock,” as Andy Williams sings in “Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season.” Isn’t it?
This is already an unorthodox holiday season. For the first time since 1888, Thanksgiving coincides with the first night of Chanukah, a convergence not calculated to happen for another 77,798 years. But how did the so-called Christmas creep insinuate its way into the first week of November? And it’s just going to snowball from here:
· Wal-Mart is getting a big jump on Cyber Monday by offering on Fri. Nov. 8 online deals on TVs, tablets and other items.
· J.C. Penney and Macy’s have announced they will be open for the first time on Thanksgiving evening
· Kmart announced it will be open at 6 am on Thanksgiving. 6 am!
Blame the economy and retailer concerns about eroding consumer confidence during the year’s biggest selling season. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy and the winter holidays can account for up to 40 percent of a retailer’s annual revenue. The 16-day government shutdown and bruising, down-to-the-wire debt ceiling imbroglio certainly hasn’t lightened the mood. The Spectrem Affluent Investor Confidence Index (SAICI®), plunged to a nine-month low in October, while the Spectrem Millionaire Investor Confidence Index (SMICI®) fell 15 points, the largest month-to-month drop since April-May 2009.
So it’s easy to understand why retailers are trying to drum up a little Christmas spirit. But at what cost? “Saturating public space with earlier and earlier holiday fare is upsetting, because it violates and devalues the psychological role holidays play in our lives,” Krystine Batcho, a psychology professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NR, told a CBS News affiliate. “Their value depends upon their distinctiveness and special features. Earlier holiday décor separates us from the actual events that hold, and will hold, such emotional meaning for us…The trend toward earlier widespread exposure diminishes their distinctiveness. They just aren’t very special anymore.”
Unless there is pushback from the public (Kmart’s decision sparked an avalanche of angry tweets), it is unlikely this trend will abate. It’s just discouraging to think that for a new generation, celebrating the Christmas season “just like the ones we used to know” will mean spending Thanksgiving at the mall.
In the meantime, I’ve marked my calendar for Mon. Dec. 2 and ABC’s annual broadcast of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” To paraphrase Mr. Brown, I won’t let all this consumerism ruin my Christmas.