The Halls certainly got decked early this past Christmas.
According to retail reports, outdoor lighting displays began brisk sales as early as August of 2020 — these sales usually take off closer to Thanksgiving.
The Washington Post reported that the Virginia Christmas Lighting and Decor Company, which offers home decorating services, began hanging lights in September, well before the norm. “My body right now feels like it usually feels on Christmas eve when I had just been working nonstop for two months,” Decor’s owner Michael Sfreddo said in mid-November. “I am already to the point where I want to collapse.”
Historically, Christmastide has always been the most gleaming time of the year. Orbiting satellites confirm this: the night skies over North America are 50-60 percent brighter during the holiday months.
That’s because more than 80 million homes are festooned with displays. Home Depot representatives estimate that the average cost of these designs run from $100 to $300. On average, more than 200 million new lights are sold per year (side note: 30-40 million real Christmas Trees are purchased).
The phenomenon referred to as “holiday creep,” the extension of the Christmas season, has been in evidence for the last decade. But this year, due primarily to the baleful impact of coronavirus, Americans seem to have started the countdown to Christmas early in the fall.
Psychologist Melissa Robinson-Brown says the situation makes sense. She told Huffpost: “People are longing for happiness and joy. This year has been a significant year of grief and loss: loss of freedom, loss of time with family, loss of income and job, and loss of loved ones…as such, people are seeking comfort and even healing.”
It is not just the lights themselves which offer solace — experts point out that memories are revived by those lights, memories of happier times. “In a world full of stress and anxiety,” psychologist Steven McKeown declared, “people like to associate to things that make them happy …Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood. Decorations are simply an anchor…to those childhood magical emotions of excitement. So putting up Christmas decorations early extend the excitement.”
Decorating also provides a much needed sense of control in a world which seems very out of control. Turning your home into a comfy oasis of light can be a respite from the images of pandemic, strife, and political dysfunction.
This year’s holiday creep was reflected in more than decoration sales — in spite of the pandemic, overall retail sales were up three percent, primarily driven by online activity. Streaming services, likewise, benefitted from our housebound country: they continued to make a dent in more traditional outlets.
One TV network, Hallmark, which featured made-for-television Christmas films, enjoyed ho-ho-ho ratings. This channel, which started holiday programming on October 23 (before Halloween!), averaged more than 25 million “unduplicated” viewers — an advertising juggernaut.
The only unfortunate aspect of the holiday is that these festivities do come to a fairly abrupt end. As songwriter Bob Marley remarked, “The good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow.”
Post-holiday withdrawal is a real phenomenon: numbers vary, but somewhere around 35 percent of our population experiences either stress or depression after Christmas.
Situational factors contributing to withdrawal include overindulging in alcoholic beverages, spending more money than we should, and missing those no longer alive with whom to share the holiday — these are all natural components of what psychologists call Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Death does not take a holiday during Yuletide: there are more fatal heart attacks in December and January than at any other time of the year. The overall death rate spikes 5 percent during this period. It has also been observed that dying people have the ability to hold out through the holidays in order to see loved ones before passing.
History tells us that the first Christmas tree in this country was decorated in the 1830’s by a Harvard professor who put candles on an evergreen tree. From that seemingly inconsequential act, an evocative tradition was born that brings widespread joy with some bittersweet feelings to millions of Americans today.