You may not have noticed, but retailers across the nation have: The official holiday shopping season — the gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas — is six days shorter this year than last.
That won’t make much difference to most of us. But it could make a huge difference to America’s purveyors of jewelry, neckties and toys. Less time for shoppers to get in the holiday mood could translate into fewer total dollars spent.
Retailers have taken pre-emptive action.
You’ve probably noticed that Christmas advertising already is well in progress. Christmas-themed ads began running on television before Halloween, way back before snow arrived in northern Michigan with a loud “whump” and declared that winter had arrived.
Mother Nature ignored the calendar, which says winter officially won’t be here until Dec. 21. Retailers also ignored the calendar, which says Black Friday is a couple of weeks away.
Retailers are stretching the limits of Black Friday, officially the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Black Friday came into being as a way for retailers to kick-start the holiday shopping frenzy. But Black Friday grew into a get-in-line-early wait-a-thon that, when the doors finally opened — at 8 a.m., then 5 a.m., then midnight — transformed into a sometimes-violent competition to grab the latest electronic toy at 20 percent off.
“Black Friday” gradually has leaked earlier and earlier. This year, stores including Best Buy and Costco are offering “Black Friday” deals more than two weeks before Thanksgiving.
Early deals, combined with the usual advertising blitz, are helping get shoppers off the couch and into stores well before the actual Black Friday. The early start means the shorter-than-normal gap between Black Friday and Christmas probably won’t cut into retail profits.
A big chunk of the U.S. retail industry depends on holiday sales to punch up profits for the year. That’s why they call it Black Friday: A store may operate at a slight loss for most of the year, but consumers’ holiday spending spree turns that around and moves retailers’ bottom line from red to black.
It seems inevitable that the holiday shopping season in the future will continue to reach deeper into autumn. Thanksgiving could become a relatively invisible holiday, lost in the midst of an extended Christmas shopping season that stretches through the entire month of November.
Some stores already have installed Christmas decorations. Some of my co-workers already have put up Christmas trees in their living rooms.
I like to keep my holidays separate — that’s part of what makes them special. I suspect I’m a social outlier in this feeling. Society in general tends to spread out festivities. Once relegated strictly to July 4th, fireworks now light up the sky many days of the year. Spring break, once strictly a week-long break for students, now is a week-long vacation for many adults and families.
The ever-growing length of the Christmas celebration — both personal and retail — strikes me as dilution of a powerful seasonal joy. Call me a Grinch, but I like to celebrate Christmas on Christmas, Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving. When the Christmas spirit takes hold in early November, the power of Thanksgiving seems diminished. That feeling probably stems from my tendency to compartmentalize, to keep different things in different mental boxes.
Thanksgiving and Christmas share a common foundation of giving and sharing, and I’m totally in tune with that — the two holidays belong on the same mental shelf of celebration. But I intend to keep the two holidays in separate boxes on that shelf, each to be taken down and enjoyed at their designated times.
One is for giving thanks and eating turkey. The other is for giving gifts and eating ham.
This year’s short time span between Thanksgiving and Christmas won’t affect my holiday shopping habits.
I always split my holiday shopping between the stuff I purchase way ahead of time and the stuff I buy at the last minute. I already bought one item on my Christmas list, so I’m half done. As usual, I’ll buy the other item on Christmas Eve.