Earlier Christmas Displays Just a Friendly Reminder

Santa Claus and Christmas decorations have already arrived at stores in the area, but what about holiday lights?
Santa Claus and Christmas decorations have already arrived at stores in the area, but what about holiday lights? (By Hans Ericsson For The Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Monday, November 24, 2008

Is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas a lot earlier than it used to?

That's the question I raised in Thursday's column. I decided that it is but that it has been for a very long time. Christmas has been creeping up -- stores decorated sooner, Santa arriving earlier -- since at least 1910, when merchants, women's groups and even this newspaper launched "shop early" campaigns.

That's the historical view. But what about more recent times? I called Hallmark cards in Kansas City, Mo., to ask if they jumped the gun this year. Spokeswoman Deidre Mize said holiday products and displays are sent to Hallmark stores in September. Most store owners don't start putting the Christmas merchandise out until just after Halloween. Deidre said it's been that way for the past 15 years, but she did note that Hallmark's holiday-themed television ads started running five days earlier this year, a function of broadcasters' ad package schedules more than anything else.

It would seem that our pilgrims' pride might get lost in the process, but Deidre insisted that isn't the case. Thanksgiving is "not a drive-by," she said. "Thanksgiving still has a presence, but it shares its space with Christmas very heavily. You'll see some Thanksgiving, but at the majority of stores it does become a Christmas environment right after Halloween."

"What we have kind of uncovered is not so much that Christmas comes earlier as that people are busier," Deidre said. People don't realize that the holidays are approaching, and when that fact does register, "it's kind of a jarring moment in time. Some people aren't ready for it."

In this theory, it isn't that Christmas is coming earlier, it's that the realization of it is coming suddenly. Deidre said we've been so distracted -- with the elections, with the economy -- that "all of the sudden to see Christmas messages thrown in there, I can understand how people could lose track of that time."

There's no doubt that the holidays are important to retailers. The season can account for 20 percent to 35 percent of some retailers' annual sales, said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Kathy suggested that consumers appreciate more notice of Christmas's impending arrival, especially this year, with a late Thanksgiving.

She said the perception of an earlier Christmas might stem from a relatively recent development: While it used to be that Christmas-themed products were mainly the province of department stores, "now you can pretty much buy anything holiday-related from any retailer in the country, even home-improvement stores. . . . What it is is more people are seeing more merchandise everywhere they go."

While once you could avoid Christmas by steering clear of Macy's, now every last Sunoco, 7-Eleven and Home Depot is Christmasified.

So, what can be done? Well, if you're one of those people who can't get enough Christmas -- who visit those year-round Christmas shops at the height of summer -- then none of this should bother you. And if you're not, then maybe you should reflect on what a visitor to my online chat Friday said in response to a reader who said that showing Christmas specials on TV before Thanksgiving made both holidays less special: "If you let TV determine the quality of your holiday, you're the one with the problem."

To that I would add: Let Christmas be what you want it to be, when you want it to be. And one final observation: Stores might be breaking out the tinsel ever earlier, but I have not noticed people putting up their lights earlier.

Not Too Early to Help Children's Hospital

We enter week two of this year's Children's Hospital campaign. I hope the preoccupations I've already mentioned won't stop you from taking part. Your tax-deductible gift will help pay the bills of poor, sick children. To donate, write a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

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To contribute by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on the recording.

Have you tried your luck at "Where in Washington?" It's a little game we play every Monday at "John Kelly's Commons," my blog. Go to http://voices.washingtonpost.com/commons.

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