Counting down the days to Christmas is a fun activity for many families. Marking the Advent season with traditions like Advent calendars, Advent wreaths, and Advent rings offer an opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of the season and to build anticipation for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Advent begins on November 30, 25 days before Christmas. The Christmas season then runs from December 25 to January 5—the twelve days sung about in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and alluded to in the title of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
In modern U.S. society, however, many people consider the day after Thanksgiving—a.k.a. “Black Friday”—to mark the start of the Christmas season. Many people put up their Christmas trees and other decorations that weekend, and begin their Christmas shopping in earnest the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers run heavily publicized discount sales on Christmas gifts.
But Black Friday is losing its dominance as the start of the Christmas season in the retail landscape from a retail and merchandising perspective. As such, many people who find joy in Advent and the Christmas season have been lamenting the rise of “Christmas Creep”—the practice of retailers running Christmas promotions on ever-earlier dates in an attempt to compete with one another for customers’ Christmas season purchases.
Studies show that consumers find Christmas Creep obnoxious. According to the Chicago Times, a recent survey found that 71 percent of respondents were “annoyed” or “very annoyed” to find holiday items in stores before Halloween, and 42 percent said they were less likely to buy from those retailers as a result.
Despite consumers’ annoyance, retailers and merchandizers have no desire to put an end to Christmas Creep. In fact, Wharton marketing professor Stephen Hoch characterizes it as a “mini arms race” that aren’t going anywhere—even though it really doesn’t benefit retailers.
“Once one of these sales happens, it will happen forever,” Hoch explained in an article on Knowledge@Wharton. “If you had a sale last year, you pretty much have to have the same sale again this year to see if you exceeded what you sold last year. This may be why retailers are putting up Christmas decorations and displays earlier and earlier. They’re looking not just at the quarter or month but every week and every day.”
Meanwhile, Amazon has appropriated the countdown to Christmas—a cherished Advent tradition—and is running a “Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week,” as I recently discovered on their home page:
There’s something sad and offensive about this co-optation of the Advent countdown. Why would anyone count down to Black Friday instead of Christmas? Doing so is crassly commercial. This kind of advertisement simply reminds us that what retailers love most about the season isn’t Christmas. Rather, it’s the fact that Christmas shopping accounts for 20% to 30% their annual sales.
Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Her book, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, is now available from retailers including Amazon.