Christmas creep is a merchandising phenomenon in which merchants and retailers exploit the commercialized status of Christmas by moving up the start of the holiday shopping season. The term was first used in the mid-1980s. The Christmas season begins with Advent between November 27 and December 3 and lasts through Christmastide, which officially starts December 25 and lasts 12 days.
It is associated with a desire of merchants to take advantage of particularly heavy Christmas-related shopping well before Black Friday in the United States and before Halloween in Canada. The term is not used in the UK and Ireland, where retailers call Christmas the "golden quarter", that is, the three months of October through December is the quarter of the year in which the retail industry hopes to make the most profit. It can apply for other holidays as well, notably Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day. The motivation for holiday creep is for retailers to lengthen their selling interval for seasonal merchandise in order to maximize profit and to give early-bird shoppers a head start on that holiday. However, it is not clear that this practice has been consistently beneficial for retailers.
Seasonal creep is not limited to the northern hemisphere winter holiday season and other popular holidays and observances, but is also becoming more common for merchandise associated with a general season of the year. Advertising for winter-, spring-, summer-, and fall-related goods generally now begins midway through the previous season. For example, many supermarkets in the United Kingdom begin selling Easter eggs even before Christmas, and in the US, stores begin selling 4th of July products before Easter, and the next major holiday is marketed as soon as or before the previous has ended.
In Australia, shops have been known to have their Christmas merchandise available as early as late September, because Halloween is not widely celebrated. The department store, David Jones Limited even begins selling Christmas merchandise at the start of September.
In United States retail, the phenomenon was pioneered by stores like Sam's Club, which introduced early Christmas sales to support resellers. The hardware chain Lowe's followed in 2000 with a policy of setting out Christmas trees and decorations by October 1, mainly because the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays do not provide enough merchandise or sales to fill retail space between the end of the summer season and the Christmas season. In 2002–2003, Christmas creep accelerated markedly with retailers such as Wal-Mart, J. C. Penney, and Target beginning their Christmas sales in October. In 2006 the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, said that 40 percent of consumers planned to start their holiday shopping before Halloween.
Christmas creep has also been cited as a phenomenon in radio broadcasting. Prior to the early 21st century, radio stations commonly began adding some Christmas songs to their regular playlists in early December and then playing an all-Christmas playlist on December 24 and 25, but in 2001 some stations began playing an exclusively Christmas format for the entire month of December. In subsequent years, such stations have commonly shifted to an all-Christmas playlist after US Thanksgiving, or even several weeks earlier. A handful of American radio stations[who?] have, since 2006, earned a reputation for regularly switching to Christmas music on November 1, the day after Halloween; as of 2011, this has not become the norm for most of North America (mid-November is the typical start time for Christmas music on most radio stations in the United States and Canada), and it is still extremely rare to hear stations (other than those pulling a stunt between changing formats) change to Christmas music in October.
Some of the channels in the U.S. television cable channel chain Music Choice begin playing Christmas music continually from the end of Halloween up until the first week of January. In 2012, the first Christmas-oriented TV commercial of the year was aired the day before Halloween.
This market trend is parodied in It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown where the characters go shopping at a department store and most of the gang are disgusted that it has its Christmas displays up in the middle of April, including a sign forewarning that there were only a mere 246 days left until Christmas. Folksinger Loudon Wainwright III also satirizes the phenomenon with "Suddenly It's Christmas", a song on his 1993 live album Career Moves. Jim Butcher even had Santa Claus himself declare in the book Cold Days that he's drawing the line at Halloween.
- Siewers, Alf (November 25, 1987). "He's well-suited to enjoying life of Santa". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 26, 2007. "And so does the culture, with a commercializing of himself that Santa deplores even as he has watched the holiday season creep back to Labor Day."
- Maxwell, Kerry (September 18, 2006). "Macmillan English Dictionary Word Of The Week Archive – "Christmas creep"". New Words. Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved December 26, 2007. "The term Christmas creep was first used in the mid-eighties, though gained wider recognition more recently, possibly due to subsequent coinage of the expression mission creep."
- Zoe Wood (Tuesday December 21, 2010) Snow chaos raises fears for Christmas dinners minus the trimmings The Guardian
- "Christmas Creep: The Shopping Season Is Longer, but Is It Better?". Knowledge@Wharton. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. March 1, 2006. Retrieved December 27, 2007. "... Wharton marketing scholars and other analysts say an extended Christmas season is something of a mixed bag. It may hold advantages, disadvantages — or even no advantages — for store owners."
- Christmas Creeps Into Stores, San Diego Union-Tribune, October 25, 2006. Accessed November 18, 2007.
- Kelly, John (November 20, 2008). "It's Not the Eggnog Talking: Christmas Is Starting Earlier". Washington Post. p. B03. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
- Kelly, John (November 24, 2008). "Earlier Christmas Displays Just a Friendly Reminder". Washington Post. p. B03. Retrieved December 1, 2008.