Christmas Creep is a phenomenon that can be found anywhere where Christmas is celebrated, but is extremely prevalent in North America. The term refers to the tendency for businesses, especially retail businesses, to start carrying Christmas-related stock earlier and earlier in the year.
Up until The Eighties, the Christmas retail season started after Thanksgiving (although Christmas catalogs for JCPenney, Sears, etc. have been mailed as early as August since at least The Seventies). The Friday after Thanksgiving became the default day to start the Christmas shopping season, and stores responded with big sales on that day. The earliest known reference to this day as "Black Friday" dates to 1961 in Philadelphia, because of the huge traffic jams and crowds of shoppers. The phrase took on a darker meaning in The Nineties, following several incidents where shoppers or store staff were injured in what were effectively stampedes of people rushing the store doors.
Since the Turn of the Millennium, it is universally accepted in America that Christmas Creep starts the day after Halloween (which was happening before in certain areas, but was semi-isolated). In the past few years, certain areas are beginning to haul in small amounts of Christmas merchandise as early as mid-October. And it's spread beyond the retail world: many radio stations that switch to an "all Christmas Songs, all the time" format now do so as early as November 1, and it's not unusual for homeowners to get a similarly early jump on putting up their own lights and decorations (though this may be more due to not wanting to spend hours outside in the cold late-autumn weather).
If Christmas Creep appears in media, it's generally Played for Laughs, poking fun at it or mercilessly mocking the commercialism.
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Peanuts joked about this a lot. The Halloween-Thanksgiving period was the usual victim of the creep.
In the TV special It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, an entire scene takes place in a Christmas display when the gang go to buy eggs.
In a late 1950s strip, Charlie Brown complained to Patty about not being able to buy a mask for Halloween, due to the store staff being busy putting up Christmas decorations.
In one Shoe comic strip published and taking place on July 1, Professor Cosmo "celebrates" July 1 as the day when his Christmas decorations are no longer up too late, but too early. (Which is to say, he leaves them up all year round because he's too lazy to take them down.)
The Blondie strip for September 14, 2013. As Dagwood and Blondie are walking through a mall, Dagwood complains about the stores playing Christmas music in September.
One FoxTrot comic that ran in November was about Andy complaining about how the decorations came out earlier every year, and stores begin pushing holiday merchandise. The punchline was that she was complaining about Valentine's Day decorations, despite it not even being December yet. Apparently, Christmas sales ran their course back in September.
Drabble. In the strip for Monday September 16, 2013, Mr. Drabble (the title character's father) finds his wife singing Christmas songs and setting out Christmas decorations in September.
Calvin deliberately tries to spread this, in one strip. He sings "Silver Bells" at the top of his lungs in mid-September. His parents respond by forcing him outside. Calvin shoots back, "Not thinking about it won't make it go away!"
In a strip from the day after Halloween: Calvin and Hobbes wake up sick from all the candy they ate. Calvin remarks how the day after a holiday is depressing and suggests going into town to look at Christmas decorations.
Cathy is outraged that she can't buy a swimsuit at a department store in summer as they're moving in the fall merchandise. She demands to see the manager, who shows up in a Santa suit.
This was the inspiration for Tim Burton's narrative poem that was later adapted into his animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton composed the poem after seeing Christmas decorations being put up in a store window display while the Halloween decorations were being taken down.
In one sci-fi story, Christmas Creep had gotten so out of control that laws were passed to make it illegal to even so much as hum Christmas carols except on the day itself. On penalty of death.
Ray Bradbury used a concept of making holidays illegal in his short story "The Exiles". By 2120, "Halloween was outlawed and Christmas was banned!" Ambrose Bierce appears in the story as a character, and he makes the following comment just moments before expiring:
"A regrettable situation...for the Yuletide merchants who, towards the last there, as I recall, were beginning to put up holly and sing Noel the day before Halloween. With any luck at all this year they might have started on Labor Day!"
A story by the Polish satirist Krzysztof Jaroszynski has an American visit Poland and ask why the Christmas decorations still haven't been taken down by February. The protagonist answers that these are decorations for this year's upcoming Christmas.
In Christmas Spirit's first story "Bah, Humbug!", Nate Jerome is an overworked commercial writer and advertising executive who has come to hate Christmas.
Live Action TV
The Hallmark Channel, which used to show 1-2 Christmas movies per night throughout December, expanded to showing them 24/7 throughout December, then expanding to include the last post-Thanksgiving week in November. Advertisements for their 2014 Christmas movies give a start date of October 31—Halloween.
The Up Channel has followed suit, starting their Christmas movies on November 1st, but limiting it to 1-2 movies per night.
Satirized in Straight No Chaser's song "The Christmas Can-Can", mixing Christmas carols and the famous can-can melody. "Heard this same song 20 times!/And it's only Halloween!"..."Christmas season!/Starting sooner every year!/It's October!/Stores with plastic Christmas trees!... But mainly shopping! shopping! shopping! shopping! shopping! shopping!"
There's got to be a build-up To the day that Christ was born The halls are decked with pumpkins And the ears of Indian corn Dragging through the falling leaves In a one-horse open sleigh Suddenly it's Christmas Seven weeks before the day
It's not December It's barely even November Outside it's still too warm for snow to fall Halloween was yesterday And winter's still a ways away But try to tell that to the folks down at the mall....
CD-ROM of Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary has a section called "Cultural Guide" and it has a short informative article about Christmas in Britain. One sentence really says it all: "Shops are decorated for Christmas from September and in the weeks before Christmas people do their Christmas shopping."
Gregg Easterbrook, espn.com NFL columnist, used to have a feature in his weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback column called "Christmas Creep", where he would list real-life examples of this trope that he found or were submitted by his readers. It became SO common, however, that he abandoned it in favor of the Unified Field Theory of Creep, where he lists all non-Christmas versions of this.
"4 Ways Companies Are Trying To Start Christmas Already", which mentions that some retailers had been putting out Christmas decorations since June. There is also mention of 2013's Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales starting in September(The actual date of Black Friday that year was November 29).
Many radio stations will play nothing but Christmas Songs throughout November and December. Originally, they'd only play Christmas music on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day or at the most, sporadically starting after Thanksgiving and eventually with more added the week of Christmas, when holiday-themed songs begin falling into the regular rotation. When it does come to Dec. 24-25, usually those stations that hold out on playing a 24-hour Christmas song playlist will switch, with either pre-recorded or satellite-fed programming played, as well as some songs selected from the playlist that's pre-recorded. Some stations still use live talent on Christmas Day, but more often than not the voices will be voice-tracked, recorded a few days earlier, or simply the music will be played without interruption.
NYC radio station WLTW ("Lite FM") used to follow this example, merely mixing Christmas music in with their regular songs, only playing Christmas music 24/7 fort he week before. Eventually this changed to 24-hour Christmas music throughout December. They then began to push the start date further and further back until they now start the weekend before Thanksgiving, rather than the more acceptable day after.
WEZW-FM, which serves the Atlantic City-Cape May area in New Jersey, has become notorious in recent years for going all-Christmas well before Halloween, typically making the switch around the middle of October.
WSFF-FM, a variety hits radio station in Roanoke, Virginia, refuses to play Christmas music in November or early December, citing this trope as a reason. They even state "Has everyone forgotten about Thanksgiving?"
In the song "We Need a Little Christmas" from the 1966 musical Mame (an adaptation of Auntie Mame), the lyric "But, Auntie Mame, it's one week past Thanksgiving Day now!", implies that it's far too early to be starting the Christmas season. These days that lyric is often changed to "one week from (or 'til) Thanksgiving Day", as even most critics of the Christmas creep would not consider post-Thanksgiving to be too early by modern standards.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game makes fun of the trope in the Times Square level. Upon hearing of the new Boson Dart mode, Winston says, "It's like Christmas came early!" Ray overhears this on his radio and balks, "Earlier than what? Santa came to my house dressed as Dracula last year!"
In "Treehouse of Horror XIV", a Halloween special that was pre-empted and aired in early November, Kang and Kodos mention in the intro "Who is watching a Halloween special in November? We already have our Christmas decorations up!"
"Treehouse of Horror IV" ended with the characters in the very end suddenly diverted from the story when snow starts falling from nowhere and the Simpsons were humming a Christmas carol.
In King of the Hill, Bill becomes a Mall Santa, and keeps his suit and Christmas decorations at his house well after Christmas, even up until March. Dale remarks by saying "They start Christmas earlier and earlier each year!"
In the South Park episode "Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery", Cartman is looking forward to Christmas on the day before Halloween, to the point of circling what he wants in a shopping catalogue and singing Christmas carols while he and his friends set up their Zany Scheme to scare the fifth graders. Eventually, a delivery man shows up with a package for his mother, but Cartman assumes it's his Christmas present and takes a peek. It turns out to be an Antonio Banderas love doll, but Cartman is ecstatic over it.
In the Rugrats, the babies think it's Christmas already when the house has a Christmas tree and Grandpa dressed as Santa. In the middle of Summer. It's actually the adults setting up their Christmas card picture.
On an episode of The Angry Beavers, Norb and Dag find themselves launched into a large conifer, which is then all lit up for Christmas. It's then revealed that it's April.
Truth in Television. It happens in many countries, in fact everywhere where Christmas is celebrated. Some stores and businesses do it more blatantly than others, though some try to avoid it on purpose and focus on all autumn holidays.note No need to list specific examples.
In Europe, Christmas candy (especially marzipan, ginger bread or Christmas cookies and cakes) are usually available in stores from September or October. Most European countries don't celebrate Halloween the way Americans do and its counterpart is more low-key, and Thanksgivingnote (at least, the one in November; Canada has one on Columbus Day) is of course a strictly American holiday. The Christmas craze in Europe can escalate.
The United Kingdom is one of the few major Western countries that somehow managed to avoid this trope, mainly because the Christmas season officially begins in October, the beginning of the "Christmas Quarter" (the last quarter of the year). However, it's still not unlikely to see Christmas and winter candies in your local grocery as early as September.
In Canada, the creeping is slightly restrained after Halloween until after November 11, Remembrance Day, the commemoration of the nation's war dead and veterans, which is obviously has no opportunity for commercialization. After that, the whole seasonal blitz goes full bore.
M&M's used to have candies in "autumn" colors, with items like leaves or perhaps a (Thanksgiving) turkey on the shell instead of the M. Then around Black Friday, the red and green candies for Xmas appeared. Then, some years ago, the autumn colors were replaced with orange and black candies for Halloween; they now go straight into the Xmas colors on November 1. Some of the Christmas candy varieties have white ones as well.
Office holiday parties are usually held from the beginning of November. This is done partly for practical reasons; if the party is being held too close to Christmas, people won't have time to attend because they need to make various holiday preparations. It also provides for more inclusive, nonsectarian festivities in years when Hanukkah comes early.
There are Christmas "saving plan"-style mail-order businesses that encourage people on a tight budget to either put a bit aside each month for Christmas or buy presents throughout the year. Given the way they work, these guys start shipping their Christmas catalogues in early January.
Tickets for various productions of The Nutcracker and other Christmas shows tend to go on sale by September, if not earlier. As well, the advertisements, such as e-mail reminders to regular patrons of these events, begin during the summer.
Halloween has begun to see a similar retail creep in recent years. It's not uncommon to see Halloween costumes, decorations, and displays in stores before Labor Day—sometimes even as early as July.
In fact, this phenomenon has begun to affect all holidays. It is no longer uncommon to see paraphernalia for an upcoming holiday appearing in stores the minute the previous holiday is over, sometimes even before then. Valentine's Day decorations have begun to appear in stores as soon as the Christmas season is over, St. Patrick's material out by the beginning of February, Passover and Easter things at almost the same time (slightly justified by the fluctuating dates of both holidays that might indeed have them falling soon after St. Patrick's Day), and back-to-school promos by July 5th (also slightly justified by the differing school schedules around the country—some places do resume classes as early as mid-August, but it just seems ridiculous to those who don't start until September and therefore only just begun their summer vacation).