Why Does Christmas Creep Bother People So Much?

The Christmas Creep often shows up during beach season and makes us cranky.

Forget Thanksgiving, the Christmas Creep often shows up as early as beach season to make us cranky.

People rant about it, stick up their noses and generally disparage the phenomenon we here at Consumerist call Christmas Creep — the inevitable sliding of the holiday season until it runs into and often runs over Halloween, Thanksgiving and sometimes even summer fun — but what’s behind that grumpiness?

We know we don’t like it, but what is it about starting holiday sales earlier and earlier every year that gets crumbs in our bed sheets?

CBS Connecticut spoke with an expert at the Villanova School of Business, who says there are a few reasons we get cranky when stores start pushing holiday sales and displays on us earlier and earlier every year.

“One is tradition. Holidays in and of themselves are often separated by some demarcation … in time,” he explains. “The end of Thanksgiving is the proverbial start of the Christmas season. So people see this demarcation as being important in part because, when they overlap … it disallows people to fully engage in a holiday and enjoy themselves.”

Meaning that if you want to focus on celebrating Thanksgiving while the holiday is actually happening, having someone tell you to start thinking about Christmas is just too distracting.

Another professor from Le Moyne College says that by pushing the holidays upon us when it’s not actually time to enjoy those holidays makes it all feel less special.

“Saturating public space with earlier and earlier holiday fare is upsetting, because it violates and devalues the psychological role holidays play in our lives,” she said. “Their value depends upon their distinctiveness and special features. Earlier holiday décor separates us from the actual events that hold, and will hold, such emotional meaning for us.”

Basically by trying to get people ramped up for Christmas when they haven’t even bought a Halloween costume yet means that by the time the holiday actually rolls around, we’re all like, “meh.”

It’s not that we don’t even know we’re being manipulated by holiday advertising, it’s just that it’s so obvious what stores are trying to do and we don’t like that, says a psychology professor at Kansas State University.

“People see it as an attempt to manipulate them and get them to start shopping. People react against being told what to do or when to do it,” she said.”

Despite all of the above, it seems that pushing the holidays on consumers when we’re not ready for them yet makes us grumpy but it also works, a sign that could mean Christmas Creep is here to stay. Seeing a sign about holiday shopping in September might get your duff up but that doesn’t mean you won’t start spending.

Still, don’t push it too hard, retailers. Because we will snap.

“Given the displeasure so many consumers experience and voice, I expect that the practice might be counter-productive if it is overdone. At this time, business owners might ignore consumer complaints, because they feel that consumers have little choice,” the Le Moyne professor adds. “Holiday buying is so expected in our culture, that people feel obligated to buy gifts regardless of any irritation they might feel about early advertising.”

Stores Nationwide Begin Holiday Season Early Despite Negative Reaction [CBS Connecticut]

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  1. JasperBeardly says:

    No mention of Christmas music? Most of it sucks, and the longer I have to listen to it everywhere I go, the more I resent everything about the holiday. Plus, when retailers release commercials with rewritten lyrics to Christmas music that I already despise, it becomes even more annoying than it already was.

  2. Ratboy1 says:

    I liked the continuity of school starting the day after Labor Day and ending before Memorial Day; the TV season starting in Sept and ending in May with reruns and specials during the summer; Oct was the month for Halloween displays, Nov for Thanksgiving products and Christmas decorations magically appearing the Friday after Thanksgiving. Old fashioned, I know, but everything seemed so much simpler then.

  3. MarthaGaill says:

    I don’t mind small sections of stores having early Christmas stuff out, especially in a craft or decoration setting. You have to get that stuff ahead of time. It’s when a store puts up the red and green and goes full-tilt Christmas before Thanksgiving that bothers me. Let me enjoy one holiday at a time!

  4. dan2112 says:

    I used to HATE Christmas creep… It used to bother me to no end that decorations at the mall started going up the weekend after Halloween… But I have (sort of) come around..

    I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older and as we as a society have gotten busier (thanks largely to technology making our lives “easier”) the holidays are here and gone in a blink of an eye. It seems like as soon as the decorations are up, it’s already Janurary and the long, duldrums of winter set in.

    So last year, I decided that while I wouldn’t actively participate in Christmas creep by setting stuff up early, I wasn’t going to complain about it either… I love the decorations, the music and the general build up to the Christmas season… Despite the blatant commercialism of it all, it’s one of the best times of the year and I don’t think that can be a bad thing.

  5. robinm says:

    I think it bothers me mostly because it’s such a blatant cash-grab. Also, let Halloween be its own holiday! And Thanksgiving used to mean something other than pre-Christmas.

  6. Kakolukia says:

    Mostly it seems to be Consumerist that’s bothered by it more than anyone else. From time to time I’ve seen holiday creep of various sorts mentioned elsewhere but nobody dedicates what at least seems to be a couple of posts a month to Christmas creep or makes such a big deal out of it like it’s some huge problem that’s destroying all the specialness of it and the other holidays.

  7. PsiCopB5 says:

    For me it’s definitely the loss of “demarcation.” When I was a kid, no one even thought about Christmas until Thanksgiving had come. It just wasn’t done. At the Thanksgiving table, family might begin discussing Christmas plans, but that was as early as it ever came up.

    There’s something about seeing Christmas stuff going up (in stores other than craft stores) in early October or even September, before Halloween has even come around, that’s just jarring. And the whole autumn season is collapsing under the weight of it. Except in supermarkets Thanksgiving is basically being trampled, and Halloween is being relegated to those “pop up” stores that seem ever-more-common than they used to.

    The retail world’s relentless Christmas creep is applying pressure to other areas. For instance, it’s gotten to the point where churches and Grange halls are holding their Christmas fairs in October already.

    If it keeps up, there won’t be a “Christmas season” any more at all. The entire year will be lead-up to the big retail holiday. And if that happens, Christmas will have been virtually wiped out. It’ll cease to exist as a retail gold-mine. Stores that keep pressing Christmas further ahead in the calendar truly are biting the hand that feeds them … only they don’t know it, or if they do, just don’t care.

  8. BikerGeek79 says:

    What bothers me about it is that floor space is finite. When they start putting Christmas stuff up it means they’re taking other stuff away. If they start putting it up before Halloween is over they’re taking floor space from costumes and supplies to put out decorations.

    But it’s not just Christmas creep. It’s seasonal creep. They start putting out school supplies for next year the first week of summer vacation. Then they take it all down before school starts so they can put up Halloween, then that’s gone a week before the holiday to start Christmas, and on Jan2 they’ve got Valentine’s day on full blast.

    If you’re a late shopper or have restricted income (getting paid monthly, or getting a variable paycheck) it really messes with you when you save for something, or wait to get paid, and it’s gone to make way for the next holiday’s thing.

    Personally, I don’t care how early they put the decorations up or the merch out. It’s not going to make me buy more, or shop earlier. I plan what to buy for people, and unless there’s a particularly good sale or other incentive, I buy it when I’m ready to, not before or after.

  9. De says:

    As a non-Christian with no interest in celebrating Christmas, the Christmas creep bothers me because it extends the time during which people who do not celebrate Christmas are treated like outsiders. It is bad enough that US society assumes that, of course, everyone wants to celebrate Chirstmas, and those who do not are Grinches or Scrooges. But it is worse when they extend the time period for this behavior to cover entire months.