Christmas Quotidian

If not ad nauseam, then ad infinitum.

It was but a wee story in the Dec. 17 Crewe Chronicle, but you can bet it got every subscriber’s attention. Christmas trees were going on sale in two days! The Veterans of Foreign Wars would sell balsam firs “on the lot next to Wilkerson’s Tire Co. and the new Johnson’s Supermarket” through Christmas Eve! Tiny tots’ eyes went instantly all aglow!

Buying a tree in rural or small-town Virginia was not a common occurrence in 1964. Most people still cut their own then, and the tree lot was mostly a thing of cities. No longer, but an even more extraordinary change has taken place: the prolongation of the Christmas season. Yes, it seems like it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas earlier each year.

The phenomenon, aptly named “Christmas creep,” was humorously (but not facetiously) spotlighted only a decade after the Crewe ad ran, when master cartoonist–trendspotter Charles Schulz addressed it (as yet unnamed) in It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, his 12th Peanuts special for television. The Peanuts kids are loose in a department store and come upon a garish Christmas display with banners screaming “SALE; BUY EARLY; SAVE” and the most telling, “ONLY 246 DAYS UNTIL XMAS.”

Today Charlie Brown surely feels even more pain. We ramp up at Thanksgiving, three weeks earlier than in 1964. Some trees go up in October, and the hype can hit a month earlier—in catalogs, on big-box shelves and in the artificial cinnamon gas that assails one’s nostrils as soon as supermarket doors swing open.

Yes, trees are installed sooner and stay up longer. A TODAY show poll found that 2 percent of us keep ours up all year long. Chronic tree use is possible thanks to artificial trees and very cool (literally) twinkling LEDs, and is enabled, of course, by persuasive retailers.

Though most people manage to hold off on decorating until Black Friday, and others still wait until December has built up a good head of steam, a reality check seems in order: It’s the 12 days of Christmas, not the three months (or the 246 days)! And those 12 days are Dec. 25 through Jan. 5, the day before the Epiphany, when the wise men finally made it to the Christ child. Note that the start date is only a few days later than the day trees went on sale in Crewe in ’64. And when trees were as flammable as tinder and decorated with actual candles, they came down around Jan. 6—or sooner for those who thought it bad luck to still have a tree up on New Year’s Day.

The good news is, for better or for worse, Christmas creep appears to be held in check, oddly enough, by Halloween creep.

Halloween has blossomed like a mushroom cloud into a sensation that rivals Christmas in magnitude, and retailers couldn’t be happier. And it has let Santa Claus off the hook, which must be a welcome breather for the jolly old elf. In Jim Butcher’s 2012 fantasy novel Cold Days, our man, there called Kringle, discusses a hunting trip he has planned before his busy season kicks in. But he ought not to be hunting, says another character; he’s “freaking Santa Claus!”

“Not until after Halloween,” counters Kringle. “Enough is enough. I’m drawing a line.”

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