It begins. For the past couple of weeks, at least, I’ve seen lights and ornaments, singing holiday trees, and even a life-sized Santa Claus at a Home Depot entrance.
Yeah, it was kind of cute that he wore an orange HD apron over his red suit, and that the words “St. Nick” were written on the “Hi, I’m…” tag. But for heaven’s sake, it’s not even Halloween yet. What’s with the Christmas creep?
Rhetorical question. The “rush” is that retailers need to make a certain amount of money or they become ex-retailers.
An excellent way to do that is to get people thinking ahead to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Specifically, to get people thinking about this way ahead of time.
I admit it: Although I’m mostly horrified by the specter of Christmas creep, part of me does derive a certain frisson from those blinky lights on the periphery of the store. Does that mean that dark marketing forces have trained me to think that way? Good grief, I hope not. I much prefer to think it’s because Christmas was quite wonderful when I was a kid.
Not opulent, mind you, but something to which we looked forward all year long: learning carols at choir practice, mooning over toys in the Sears catalog (which we referred to as “the wish book”) or at stores in the closest town, the smell of Christmas cookies (starting in late November my mom baked and froze hundreds of the things).
The factory where Mom worked brought in a Santa Claus, and we each got a small gift and a candy cane after whispering our wishes to him. We memorized “pieces” to be recited at the annual Christmas program; it always felt odd to get dressed in our Sunday best and go to the church on a weekday evening.
We didn’t decorate, either indoors or out (no one we knew did). But there was the pleasurable anticipation of putting up the tree, which did not happen on Thanksgiving night. If we pleaded long and convincingly, we were sometimes able to get our parents to do this a week before Christmas.
It wasn’t that the tree was huge and elaborately decorated, or that we could expect 50 gifts apiece. Christmas was special because it was the birthday of our Savior and, yeah, because we might get a bike or a Barbie.
That’s why even as I bemoan Christmas creep, I also secretly enjoy it a little. I can look at all the lights and baubles, and the extra gift items in the stores, and remember when the holiday was magic instead of a little nervous-making.
Don’t get me wrong: It is still magic. But the stakes are higher now that I’m an adult. Giving gifts and donating to charity are both important to me, so I have to consider both affordability/sustainability. As in, “How can I prevent this from busting the budget?” and also “How do I make sure not to set the bar too high?”
To stay on (preferably under) budget, I look for gifts all year long at yard sales, thrift stores and clearance tables. I enter contests, and sometimes I even win them. Certain items from the vendors hall at the Financial Blogger Conference make great stocking stuffers. Another stocking stuffer hack is to get free-after-rebate stuff from Walgreens; usually it’s stuff like lotion, lip balm and ponytail holders. I also keep an eye on the Free Friday Download at Kroger stores; lately I’ve collected so many snack items (jerky, candy, gum) that I might save some of it for Easter baskets.
I cash in for gift cards from the Swagbucks and MyPoints rewards programs, and also from my trio of rewards credit cards. Sometimes I shop with them and sometimes I just gift the scrip outright.
Some people don’t like gift cards. But I enjoy giving my nephews $25 worth of head start at favorite retailers (Target, Hot Topic) and letting them pick out exactly what they want – especially since the credit goes further during post-holiday sales.
However, I keep the gifts fairly low-key. I don’t want the kids (or the adults!) in my life to consider big piles of gifts to be the default holiday setting. That’s a game no one wins: the youngsters become jaded and harder to wow, and the givers spend more than they can or should.
The cost of Christmas
As noted, I enjoy looking at holiday décor items. The True Value hardware store near us displays trees decorated in fun and creative ways and also sets up different kinds of Christmas lights. At least once a year I make it a point to wander through the displays and smile. And some of the stuff at big-box stores is so outrageous that it makes me laugh out loud.
But even as I’m thinking, “Wow, people sure are willing to shell out a lot for Minions wearing Santa hats” or “I wonder how we ever managed to celebrate the Baby Jesus before Spongebob Squarepants came along,” I’m also acutely aware that some people will let themselves get a little too into the holiday spirit.
The National Retail Federation’s annual survey puts average holiday expenditures at $1,007.24 this year. This figure includes not just gifts but also decorations, food, flowers, cards and items bought not for gifts but because they were a great deal (and, who knows, maybe even needed).
We all know that to some extent averages lie, but they can also be decent indicators. And when we’re talking a period of time that’s as fraught as the Silly Season, it’s a safe bet that some people will lose their damn minds at Christmas.
That’s why it concerns me that Christmas seems to come earlier every year. Although I’m not a big pumpkin spice person, unless we’re talking about actual pumpkin pie, it would be nice to have autumn and maybe even a little bit of winter before we have to deck those halls.
That said: Black Friday is only four weeks away. Boy, am I glad that pretty much all my shopping is done. All I have to do is look for the free/almost free stuff, either to gift or to donate, and try not to lose my own damn mind.
Readers: Are you seeing Christmas creep? How do you feel about it?
- Some frugal Christmas parodies
- The loneliest drugstore in the world
- Whose Christmas costs more?
- Do we need a little less Christmas?
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