I can already hear the oh-so-festive sounds of groans and moans, the snide comments and the weeping for our future.
The Christmas decorations are already in stores.
Truth be told, I saw Christmas trees in Macy’s back in September (which was just weird), but now that it’s November, I’m a lot less bothered. I know a lot of people gripe about this, and will make comments about “forgetting Thanksgiving” (come on, no one really forgets Thanksgiving), but I’m about to offer you a reasonable defense for (seemingly too) early Christmas displays.
First, the so-called “forgotten” Thanksgiving. No one forgets Thanksgiving. The “problem” with Thanksgiving is that it doesn’t have much in the way of marketing, and the origin story most of us learned in school is entirely too simplistic. That’s okay, though, Thanksgiving has turned into a national time to give thanks for what we have, for our blessings and abundance, and to spend time with family. And that’s great! But you know what’s missing?
For Thanksgiving, kids will mostly be relegated to the “Kids’ Table” while the adults swap family stories or watch football or the like. This is really and truly an adult holiday, and therein lies the marketing gap. There aren’t Thanksgiving “treats” to buy, costumes to wear, and decorations are limited to generic autumn things or cornucopias. Plus Thanksgiving is a strictly North American holiday (even though harvest festivals have ancient roots), and in November the only one in the US. There isn’t the appeal of a wide range of cultural backgrounds the way there is with Christmas or even Halloween (which is increasingly celebrated in other countries). It’s a great holiday and an American tradition, but it isn’t a BIG holiday. It’s more on-par with July 4th in the US: celebrated nationally with traditions of its own (including a specific type of meal, be it a cookout or turkey dinner) but really with little buildup and done by the next day.
So setting aside Thanksgiving, isn’t it entirely too much to have Christmas displays nearly two months before the actual holiday?
Not at all.
While I agree that most of it before about November 1 is pushing it (with the exception of craft stores, which I’ll get back to momentarily), by the time we get to November, we’re careening toward one of the largest holidays in the world. Think I’m exaggerating? As of 2011, an estimated 2 billion people are culturally (if not religiously) Christian. That’s 2 billion people celebrating Christmas. Factor into that the size and scope of the marketing in our own country, and you have a behemoth of a religious holiday.
On a smaller scale, besides an important religious holiday, Christmas has become (in our country, and many other western countries), focused on coming together with people and exchanging gifts. This costs a lot of money, be it in travel expenses, purchasing (or making), and possibly shipping. There are a lot of things we “need” for this holiday, and this huge chunk of expenses is easier to take if spread out over two months instead of one. Plane tickets are easier to find (and more affordable) with more lead-time, gift purchasing can be done in small spurts, etc. It makes sense to get people thinking about it early, and it makes sense to have things ready to go for people who need to shop early.
And speaking of shopping early, crafters are a huge category here. One of the growing trends (which makes me very happy, as it’s moving us away from the wholly commercial aspect of this whole business) is handmade gifts and decor. The thing about this is that, in order to make any kind of quantity, a person needs enough time to gather supplies and actually produce the items in question. Even making cards (which I did until a couple of years ago) took time and patience, and I often started looking for my supplies in August or September so I’d have time to find everything I needed and make them all.
Finally on a personal note, there is a tiny minority of us who have loved ones overseas for the holidays, and we all have to make sure their holiday packages arrive in plenty of time. The US Post Office has already said that for military, standard post service deadline is November 12.* That’s next week.
So when you’re out this week and you see Christmas displays and hear Jingle Bells, just take a minute before you make a snide remark, take a minute and get a little perspective. There might be someone shopping for another Christmas spent apart.
*Standard post is the equivalent of “parcel post” and means going by ship somewhere. If you do priority (or air) mail, you have almost another month. But check the chart anyway.