Holiday creep

Tomorrow is Hallowe’en.  Yay!  I’m actually not a very big Hallowe’en person myself, but it sure seems like everyone else loves it, and I definitely enjoy being around my friends when they’re having a good time.

And, in that vein, I went to a Hallowe’en party last night, I’ll go to another tonight (several others, if I can find a way to stop by at the party that I almost didn’t find out about), and I’ll probably head out tomorrow as well.  Tomorrow is actually Hallowe’en, of course, but in the oldest tradition of holiday creep, it seems to have extended to include this entire week.  There was a party on Wednesday as well, but I didn’t go, and several parties last weekend were tinged with mild Hallowe’en themes.

It’s not just university circles that are doing this either (because, really, it wouldn’t be especially noteworthy if university students exploited a holiday for all the partying it were worth), but just regular folks.  The customer service representatives at my local mobile phone store were wearing Hallowe’en-tinged uniforms (cape, fangs, cat ears, and whatnot) as early as last weekend.  Yesterday, two days before Hallowe’en, the fraternities and sororities had their annual trick-or-treat, where lots of little kids went from house to house collecting candy and starting small fires.  Today is also Hallowe’en day in elementary schools (as I write this, a teacher friend of mine is probably just pushing the last of the costumed terrors out the door, before she goes to her desk and takes a long swallow from a shiny metal flask).  And, of course, all those little kids will be trick-or-treating tomorrow evening as well, on Hallowe’en proper.  Hallowe’en basically lasts the better part of a week.

Is that a bad thing, though?  No, I don’t really think so.  Hallowe’en isn’t an especially over-milked holiday, to my mind.  It’s officially one day long, but has always stretched to include weekends when the proper day didn’t happen to fall on one.  And, little kids deserve to party a bit at school when the holiday does happen to land on a weekend.  And, besides, for all that time and effort people sometimes put into costumes, maybe they deserve a few extra opportunities to wear them.

But, sometimes holiday creep is not fine.  Sometimes, in fact, it is really absurd.  Today I wandered into my local Pier-1 Import store.  They had Christmas stuff.  I was a little boggled.  Christmas is at the end of December (duh); it is not even November yet.

People already joke about the holiday creep that afflicts the Christmas season (also known simply as the holiday season, partly as an acknowledgement that Christmas is just the most popular of several religiously-inspired holidays during this period, and partly because the enormous holiday machine that is Christmas has somehow become large enough to claim part-ownership of the word holiday itself), but this is more than a little absurd.  Generally, the Christmas season is accepted to start at the end of the US Thanksgiving holiday, a full month from now, but here is a retail store already stocking and displaying Christmas items, many of which have a winter theme that is more than a little at odds with the early-autumn weather in Northern California.  Yep, those light-up plastic icicles will doubtless look lovely next to the barbecue beside the pool while we splash around and enjoy a sunny afternoon.

Now, I cheerfully acknowledge that a good portion of what I’m complaining about is merchant-driven.  It’s been an ugly year economically, and it must be very tempting to make the most of holiday sales surges by stretching the buying period as far as it will go.  But, the simple fact is that store wouldn’t be doing this if people weren’t buying it.  If Pier-1 thought there were any chance that ceramic Frosty-the-Snowmans would sit unsold and take up valuable shelf space, they wouldn’t put them on the shelves.  The optimist in me dearly hopes that those pottery snowmen are being sold to people building bloodthirsty zombie snowman armies for Hallowe’en, bit I think we all know that this isn’t what’s happening.

So, why are people buying Christmas ornaments in late October?  Actually, I think it’s happening for the same reason that stores are trying to sell them in late October.  People traditionally look to the holidays as an uplifting and inspirational time when you can appreciate family and friends and generally soak up some (consumer-driven, corporate-sponsored) goodwill.  Santa Claus isn’t really real, but he’s real if I believe in him.  Or something.

It’s funny.  In a previous post I criticised a pregnancy-kit manufacturer for convincing consumers that they were stupid, and then selling them an item for stupid people.  Really, is the holiday marketing machine any different?  Thanksgiving convinces people that they miss their families, then charges them an arm and a leg to fly and visit them.  Valentine’s Day convinces me that I’m lonely and pathetic, and I spend a fortune on prostitutes.  The Christmas season aggressively convinces people that they are happy (or at least, should be), and then sells products marketed to happy, festive people.  But, somehow, when it’s Christmas, and the media are pumping me full of the social equivalent of endorphins, I almost don’t mind.  Of course, I want to be happy, in a way that I don’t want to be stupid or lonely.  It almost seems like… a service, that companies are trying to lift my spirits, even if it’s only for their own sales numbers.

I’m kind of not sure what to make of that.  Being happy is a good thing, right?  And, if a company’s marketing practices help the consumer at the same time as helping the company, isn’t that simply a positive and healthy business model?  On the other hand, I know perfectly well that my happiness is only coincidental, and that if there were more money to be made another way, the holiday season would instead spend all its efforts convincing me that I’m a werewolf, and then sell me flea collars.  But, I’m not a werewolf, and I am happy (well, happier), and I did feel kind of festive and warm-hearted when I looked at those overpriced hand-painted snowmen.  I didn’t mind at all that it was two months before Christmas, and I only felt a pang of annoyance when I realised that I didn’t mind, and felt gullible about it.

So, I’m uncertain.  Am I supposed to resist, because I know perfectly well that I’m being manipulated?  Or, am I supposed to indulge, because it’s rare that marketing works in my favour, and I should take advantage of it while I can?  My choice today was easy, because even three weeks into December I’d have absolutely no desire for a Rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer with a candle in the middle of his face.  Sooner or later, though, I’ll see an element of inappropriate holiday marketing that will appeal to me, and I won’t know how to feel.

How should I feel?  It’s hard to know when the media hype doesn’t do a good job of telling me what to think.

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