(Illustration by Karen Kurycki/For The Washington Post)

Perhaps you still call this time of year Christmas. Or Hanukkah. Or, generically, “the holidays.”

If so, you haven’t been paying attention. Unconsciously, you’ve tuned out the insidious loop of diamond ads and ignored the pretty little boxes in every storefront window.

This, friend, is “engagement season.” And to those in the wedding industry, it’s only the eve of their most wonderful time of the year. For December rings, they know, bring January cha-chings.

January has become the month-long equivalent of Black Friday in the wedding world. After a rush of holiday proposals, wedding Web sites will see huge spikes in traffic, as bridal expos crank into gear across the country and glossy magazines with hundreds of ads and intimidating “to-do” lists fly off the shelves. With a quick flip of the calendar, the wedding-planning bonanza is underway.

According to WeddingWire, a Bethesda company that provides technology for the wedding industry, 33 percent of engagements happen between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Families are together, sparkly lights abound and people are in the mood to unwrap things.

And if a guy’s gonna pop the question eventually, he might as well use the opportunity to avoid shopping for a holiday gift and kill two birds with — ahem — one stone. Plenty of Web sites offer ideas on executing the perfect holiday proposal: Play Santa! Hang it on an ornament! Spell it out in lights on your roof!

And, of course, the jewelers of America have done their part to reinforce the expectation of a diamond ring under the Christmas tree. In the past month, message boards lit up with postings by young women speculating on whether they’ll get engaged over the holidays. “My [significant other] told me on new years eve that I would be engaged this year,” one woman who goes by the user name kribbie wrote on PriceScope, an online diamond buying guide. “Well, since there are only a few days left til new years 2012, I’m hoping he keeps his promise.

Every year I despise the holidays more and more,” bemoans another who calls herself sweetpepsigirl. “The commercials make it hard, too. It’s like they KNOW I want a ring for Christmas.”

Never mind that she’s been in a relationship for only six months and “definitely knows there isn’t a ring in my immediate future. *sigh.*”

Still, she benevolently sprinkles digital fairy dust on the other would-be brides, typing “********dust*******” to bid them good luck with their proposal wishes. And when those diamond dreams come true, the newly engaged won’t bask in the ring’s glow for long before cranking up the nuptial machinery.

Naturally, the wedding industry will be at the ready. It didn’t become a $70 billion business because its purveyors spend a lot of time sitting on their heels, after all.

Bride Magazine’s January edition — which sold 250 ad pages this year, compared with the 40 or so ad pages most women’s magazines will have for the month — is always its best-selling issue. Big-name dress designers parade through bridal salons for trunk shows while retailers that offer wedding registries are already planning events for newly engaged couples to check out the goods.

WeddingWire’s Web traffic will more than double from December to January. The Monday after New Year’s Day is one of Sonny Ganguly’s favorite days of the year. WeddingWire’s chief marketing officer loves to watch new user registrations soar as brides-to-be pretend to work while furtively planning their weddings. The site’s most popular features in January are a checklist designed to help couples figure out what needs to be done and reviews of area venues, which often book up a year or more in advance.

That’s why reception sites such as the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club in Stevensville will host open houses to show off their facilities. Couples “come stampeding into the new year looking for their venues,” says Erin Janes, the club’s wedding and events director. Many of the newly engaged customers she’ll meet at its Jan. 7 showcase will be looking for open dates in 2013, she adds.

Even couples who got engaged long before the holidays often double down on their planning efforts after the new year. “Over the holiday, everyone asks these girls, ‘When’s your wedding? What’s your wedding date?’ And those who don’t have an answer want an answer quick,” says Jennifer Stiebel, founder of SoCo Events, a Washington wedding planning firm. “If they don’t have that all squared up, panic sets in.”

Stiebel typically gets 50 percent of her inquiries for the year in January and February, so she’ll spend much of next month meeting with prospective clients, polishing her portfolio and touching base with favorite vendors. She gets some calls from couples just starting out and others from brides who got halfway through the planning process and began to feel overwhelmed.

One could feel that way just walking through one of the half-dozen bridal expos to be held in the Washington area over the next six weeks. Marc McIntosh is producer of the Washington Bridal Showcase, which will put on shows in Richmond, the District, Fairfax and Baltimore on consecutive weekends. For each one, he’ll expect about 3,000 visitors roaming through the stalls of 250 exhibitors ranging from photographers and stationers to florists and DJs. That might seems like an awfully stark buyer-to-seller ratio, but McIntosh says this is because of one peculiarity in the wedding business: There aren’t repeat buyers. (At least theoretically — plenty of people get married a second or third time. But using the same caterer seems as though it might be bad luck.)

“There’s this need for businesses in the wedding industry to constantly promote themselves — every month new brides get engaged and move in, and other brides get married and move out,” McIntosh says. But, he adds, “my audience is very motivated. They have a budget of money to spend and a deadline with which to spend it. ”

So, fear not, sweetpepsigirl. Your day will come. Maybe next year Santa will turn that lump of coal into a diamond. And you’ll be surfing over to The Knot in no time. ********dust*******.


Engagement stories: Upload a photo and share the story of your marriage proposal

The crossword puzzle proposal: Where are they now?

True wedding stories and planning tools