We all have that one friend who just goes a bit overboard during the holidays. I was that friend. I loved Christmas. I would play sing Jingle Bells in July. I would delight in watching the ABC special 25 Days of Christmas and I always had a Santa-long list of holidays activities each year. In college, I planned a week of Christmas events with a friend which included pictures with Santa in which my friend dressed up and friends sat on his knee. You could say I loved Christmas a little too much.
However, in the last few years, my love has softened into a quieter, more aloof feeling. Maybe it’s because time seems to speed by the older I get and I want to savor it more or maybe it’s because it seems like stores are advertising Christmas earlier and earlier each year and it feels a little extra. It’s as if we are barely past Halloween before Christmas ads are playing on tv and the decorations are up in all the windows. One holiday at a time! Why is it that businesses can’t wait until at least Thanksgiving to push their holiday agenda on us?
Unbeknownst to the public, that’s just good marketing. Many companies are advised to start advertising three or four months in advance of a holiday. According to the National Retail Federation, “each year about 40 percent of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween.” Some stores even begin filling their shelves as early as September.
This phenomenon of complaining about early advertising isn’t a new concept. ‘Christmas Creep’, as it’s called, was first coined in the ‘80s to describe the way retailers advertise a little earlier each year and has been ongoing since the ‘50s. For people like me who now complain about seeing holidays ads in October, clearly, we just haven’t been paying attention. It makes sense financially for businesses to start marketing early. With the stress that holidays bring, many people are shopping earlier. The holidays are also the busiest shopping time, making up one-fifth of retail revenue every year.
What’s most frustrating is the subliminal messaging that has existed in marketing since the dawn of time – that the only way to truly show your loved ones you care is to buy them a lot of stuff. There are warm visuals of families running down to the tree on Christmas Day to rip open boxes and boyfriends surprising their significant others with glitzy jewelry. The smile on their faces should fill your heart, while also emptying your wallet.
I don’t mean to be a Grinch here but the reason I loved Christmas in the first place is because of the feelings it invoked – not the things you buy. Sure, who doesn’t love getting presents? But the spirit of goodwill to all and peace everywhere? You can’t buy that.
Let’s make Christmas less about buying the perfect present that encapsulates all your feelings and more about getting together for warm gatherings and good conversation. If you want to buy presents for friends, have a white elephant party. Not everyone can afford to buy a present for every single person they care about, but you can still get together and have fun. If you do want to get presents, how about trading an experience or skill instead? Take a loved one on a fun tour of your city, offer to make them dinner, or knit them a scarf. Let’s not make a huge pile of presents signify our worth or how much someone is worth to us. I still love Christmas these days, but it’s not my whole world. There are plenty of other days to celebrate how much I love my friends and family. That should count for something too.