The Christmas (Creep) Miracle

Now I don’t wanna get all preachy, {{1}}[[1]]Of course I do.[[1]] but the faux outrage over the Christmas Creep is embarrassing even for Americans. Just so we’re all talking about the same thing, let’s define the Christmas Creep as the perceived or actual expansion of what is generally called the holiday shopping season. “Regular Americans” feel the Christmas Creep is an affront for lots of reasons. These reasons may include the perception that we must celebrate one holiday at a time, that it sets kids’ expectations too high, and, because it wouldn’t be Xmas without them, the religious psychotics with their “defileing” complaints.{{2}}[[2]]Don’t give me a hard time over the “psychotics” thing.[[2]] Lastly and finally, there are the people longing for a Norman Rockwell Christmas that never existed.

As someone who accompanies his kids caroling every Christmas Eve, I’ll set this last one aside. I wish Christmas was as it is in old paintings, too. {{3}}[[3]]Unless those old paintings are Dickensian rather than Rockwellian, in which case I’ll stick with the American late 20th century Christmas, thank you.[[3]] But I’m only falsely nostalgic to a point. I don’t care how “commercialized” Christmas gets, nor am I particularly committed to shopping in stores that are only decorated in what I have pre-decided is an appropriate mannor. According to the Internet, this year many stores began putting Christmas decorations out in late September. This is somehow a problem for people.

Because I’ve got so much more to be angry about, it never occurs to me to be angry about when Christmas decorations go on sale. And, if you suffer from Christmas Creep Outrage (CCO), you don’t really have a problem with it either. What you likely do have a problem with is the nagging feeling that you’re being nickeled and dimed. CCO is the national equivalent of Steve Martin standing in the bread aisle removing extraneous hot dog buns from their packaging. But, just like Steve, if you’re suffering CCO you’re missing the point. The Christmas Creep says nothing about you or the way you celebrate the holidays. It is a marketing scheme no different from President’s Day car sales and Back-to-School blowouts. There is no cultural directive to play along and no assault on your holiday celebration that you don’t inflict upon yourself.

CCO also has been ignited by shops that have moved up their Black Friday sales. As a marketing scheme, this aspect of the Christmas Creep is not going to backfire, ala Miracle on 34th Street, as many have been suggesting.{{4}}[[4]]Click this last link at your own risk. It is popup laden but I included it because it is its own anti-consumerism satire, wrapped up in a godfearing, pander-bow.[[4]] I do think it may undo itself in a really fun and interesting way, though, and am hopeful and kinda excited about the notion.

Retailers have spent the last few decades turning Black Friday into a shopping event. They created a false demand, sequestered it, and then let it loose in a spectacular orgasm of competitive conspicuous consumerism. Each year the only thing more pervasive than complaining about commercialization of the holiday was participation in that commercialization. Like Nickelback or pornography, it became a billion dollar business in which no upstanding human being ever participated. {{5}}[[5]]Except ironically.[[5]]

On the face of it, the undermining of Black Friday seems wise—no more lawsuits over how involved a corporation was in a trampling death and an extra few hours of “crazy prices.” But it could very well be a poorly-timed error.

What people like about Black Friday, moreso even than the savings aspect of it, is the event-ness of it. The only thing Americans enjoy more than a massive event is participating in a massive event. “I was there, when…” is a really powerful enticement.{{6}}[[6]]Brief aside: I’m pretty sure most people still attending Bob Dylan shows want to be able to say they were there when he dropped dead on stage.[[6]] Un-branding on such an enormous scale could frankly take the fun out of it for enthusiastic participants. Plus, there’s another shopping event gaining some traction—Small Business Saturday. In case you didn’t click the links, Small Business Saturday is a push by American Express to entice people into downtowns to Christmas-shop at independent retailers. To be very clear, there is no world where Main Street shopping makes a Wal*Mart-crushing comeback, but this momentum change could cost the big retailers all year long.

For Amex’ part, the promotion makes a ton of sense. I don’t know if Wal*Mart even takes American Express, but Black Friday has been a bargain-hunting, revolving credit event since 1980 at the very least. It has never been an Amex-cardholder-dominated event. Small Business Saturday isn’t about creating demand, though, it’s about creating a culture and relationships. It gives smaller retailers a chance to remind potential customers how shitty an experience shopping at Wal*Mart really is. A reminder for the 10 minutes and $40 you save shopping at a big retailer all year, you endure semi-aphasiac clerks, screaming kids, and enough degenerates to draw the attention of TLC.

Retailers’ decision to walk away from that pent-up demand maybe have been a stroke of genius in terms of decreased lawsuit costs and an increase in sales-shoppers who would normally not participate in the Black Friday mess.{{7}}[[7]]To continue the metaphor, these are the people who truly do not watch porn or listen to Nickelback.[[7]] By de-eventing Black Friday, though, it is possible and even likely big box retailers will have a softening of annual business as people learn to weigh the cost of their sanity versus convenience.