Ah, my Yule blog. I’ve not posted here in a while. (For more of it, search ‘Christmas’ in the search box of this blog) I’ve not needed to. Christmas has been absent. Even last Christmas, in 2020, it was quite absent, seemingly.
Of course Christmas is Christmas is Christmas, whatever do to celebrate. But it’s always been – literally – a movable feast.
I explored in my book Hark! The Biography of Christmas how Christmas through the ages has moved around a little. December 25th, yes (in the West), but then there’s Orthodox Christmas, which happens to be about – oh look – 12 days later. The Twelve Days of Christmas arguably comes from appeasing both sides of the family, East and West Churches. But the Christmas season moves a lot more still.
With the rise of the commercial Christmas (thank you Macy’s for kicking that off), a whole industry blew up around preparing for Christmas. For centuries we’d done that, certainly, from King John’s miles of table linen to customs for Martinmas or Stir-Up Sunday. We’d prepared, but we’d not had the chance to buy quite so much.
Macy’s wanted our money. So did the other big department stores. In the late nineteenth century, Harrod’s and Selfridge’s both put up Christmas window displays, so year after year they each put theirs up a little earlier, to try and get the jump on their rival.
…Christmas creep was born!
That starting-pistol being fired earlier and earlier means the Christmas season seems to creep back earlier each year, so you end up with Christmas displays in shops in autumn. Sainsbury’s stocked mince pies this August! (Well, they could be out of stock by Christmas.)
But till now, the Christmas ads – headlined by the John Lewis ad in recent years – have all hovered around the same date, in late November.
Not this year. For the first time, the John Lewis ad has debuted BEFORE BONFIRE NIGHT. (That’s November 5th, non-UK residents). Halloween out the way, the shops are ready for the next thing.
Here’s the 2021 ad, launched today, as I write this, Nov 4th 2021:
John Lewis say the reason they’ve gone early is because we’re planning earlier this year – perhaps due to supply issues, perhaps due to uncertainty over Covid ruining another Christmas for us. People are freezing their turkeys, they say, and buying pressies sooner than usual. Already we’re hearing that many toys or electrical items may not be available at all this year. I reckons some Christmas presents are still stuck on that cargo ship in the Suez Canal (is that still there?)
So there you have it. Christmas creep – still a thing, now applied to online Youtube ads for your department store of choice. Inevitably it won’t shift back – so next year expect the John Lewis ad by November 4th 2022, if not sooner.
Whatever you buy, or buy into, this Christmas – make it a good one, all of you. Traditions may change again, but we shift slowly with our customs. So 2020’s Christmas was a bit of a shocker, and a shock. We’ll try this year to gather a bit more than last year, but expect us to move online more than 2019’s Christmas certainly.
That includes shopping online – John Lewis is counting on it.
And hey, I suppose I can too then. If you’d like to read a book on the history of Christmas, why we do what we do each festive season, my book Hark! The Biography of Christmas is a fun festive sleigh-ride through thousands of years of Christmas customs. I enjoyed writing it. I hope you enjoy reading it.
I’ve recorded some special videos/prepared some special notes with my good friends at The Big Church Read – 5 short videos, so if you’re in a book group, a church group, or just fancy following it yourself, you can watch the videos, read the notes, but above all, read the book, available on that link too.
Merry reading, if you do – and merry shopping, which I know you’ll do. Whether that’ll be at John Lewis with its sweet alien and spaceship, that remains to be seen.
Do browse the rest of my Yule blog, by searching for ‘Christmas’ in the search box of this blog.