THE START OF HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
On November 1st a friend asked, partly in jest:
“Halloween is over, can we listen to Christmas music now?”
And therein lies a conundrum. When do we begin the celebration of the Christmas holiday?
There are two schools of thought:
- Celebrate each holiday in its own season: first Halloween, then Thanksgiving, only then Christmas
- Stretch out the Christmas celebration earlier
Which of these two has historical precedence?
The first school of though has the clear historical precedence. Most ancient is the observation of the Feast of Christmas or the Christ Mass has been celebrated since the 4th century. This season is called Advent in Western Christianity, from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” In ancient cultures this word was used for the practice of welcoming royalty. This was a preparatory time for the coming of the King.
The four Sundays of Advent usually start after Thanksgiving and run up to or before Christmas Day. Thanksgiving, at least how it is celebrated in America began in the early 17th century with the Pilgrims. Halloween, as we celebrate it today is more recent, though some of the customs go back to Roman times, and the November 1st All Saint’s Day goes back to the 9th century.
What has changed recently?
In a word: retailing.
- Brick-and mortar retailers have announced they’re opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day: Macy’s, Target and Wal-Mart are moving sales earlier Thursday. Black Friday on Thursday.
- E-commerce sites are advertising pre-Black Friday sales. The Wall Street Journal reports that “UPS, FedEx Gird for Earlier Holiday Rush.” On Thanksgiving Day, online sales are projected to reach $1.35 billion, up 27% from last year. Cyber Monday which used to follow Black Friday is now moving earlier, and changing its name.
Another WSJ report says that online shoppers accounted for 40% of the $59 billion in sales racked up over the four-day Black Friday weekend last year, up from 23% in 2006, according to the National Retail Federation.
What leads online e-commerce?
Mobile devices. IBM predicts that 53% of online visits this year will be made from from smartphones and tablets, up from almost 43% last year. Apple iOS devices are expected to drive twice the mobile traffic of Android, and four times the sales. Browsing will be done on smartphones, but tablets will account for twice as many purchases as smartphones.
What’s the fallout?
Thanksgiving as a holiday is being squeezed between the #1 candy sales holiday of Halloween and the even bigger shopping season of Christmas. Pumpkin Spice Latte, that most popular seasonal beverage which beginning in 2003 has heralded the coming of Fall like the changing color of leaves… does this help differentiate the holidays? It seems to be inspiring an outbreak of nutmeg-laced, squash flavored foods. Pumpkin Oreos! I have even seen pumpkin pasta sauce. It’s the #pumpkinization of America.
But to be fair, there is another reason for pulling Christmas forward. Some people want the experience of the Christmas holiday to begin earlier: Christmas music, movies, decorations, fir trees,
pumpkin spice latte.
Some prefer to keep each holiday separate and distinct, celebrating each in its turn. Others, like Charles Dickens’ Ebeneezer Scrooge said in A Christmas Carol:
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
How do you celebrate the cumulative holidays season?
P.S. Keep it tuned right here as our Christmas series of the History of the Holidays starts on Sunday.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian