Oh Sh#%, Here Comes Christmas
I only heard the announcement because WHYY was conducting a fund drive and I was surfing the radio dial in the car. (Then again, when isn’t WHYY conducting a fund drive?) Still, what I heard did cause me to look a bit less fondly at my decade-old Honda, which, despite the extensive body damage inflicted by my parking garage (love you guys!) and the 197,568 miles on its odometer, I usually like very much. My Honda, though, doesn’t have Sirius. And the announcement from radio station More FM 101 was that already, now, right this very minute, it was conducting an online poll to choose which Christmas songs we, the people, want to hear this year.
This was two weeks before Halloween.
It’s not my imagination. The phenomenon known as “Christmas creep” is real, and has nothing to do with Santa’s lap. Kmart started touting its Christmas layaway plan right after Labor Day this year; one Ikea store put up a decorated tree on September 20th. People are still renting houses at the Shore on September 20th, for chrissake. An article in Slate a few years back traced Christmas creep all the way back to Victorian times. Of course, the Victorians had the excuse that merchandise arrived via horse and cart. Now that Amazon has drones, we can hardly blame long lag times for the way the Best Holiday of All has nudged past Thanksgiving and Halloween and is lapping at Labor Day’s toes.
Over the years, according to Slate, all sorts of excuses have been employed to get Americans to start hearing sleigh bells sooner and sooner. Early in the last century, labor activist Florence Kelley decried how the last-minute Christmas shopping rush required shop salesgirls and delivery boys to work into the wee hours. (Will no one think of the children?) During the World Wars, getting a jump on Santa’s list was pitched as patriotic; it saved “man-power, coal and gasoline.” All along, there have been naysayers whining about how rampant consumerism was spoiling the special joy of Christmas, yada yada yada, as if there were still any special joy in a holiday now commemorated with enormous plastic front-yard inflatables like “Santa Fishing for Tuna” and “Hunting Snowman Holding Rifle” (yeah, there’s your holiday spirit! Only 43 left!).
But back to More FM. The history of the station is a fascinating look at the rise of Christmas creep. According to Wikipedia, what was then known as B101 initiated its all-Christmas format in the late 1990s as a mini-marathon from noon on Christmas Eve to midnight on Christmas Day. Those were the days when Christmas meant something, dammit, particularly since I then had young children who required extensive entertainment during long, dark holiday rides to and from Grandma’s and Pop-Pop’s houses. It was very handy to be able to tune in B101 and urge everyone to sing along to “Little Drummer Boy.” In 2002, though, B101 competitor Sunny 104.5 started programming Christmas music on the first weekend in November. B101 countered with its own pre-Christmas cannonade, putting the lie to anyone who claims arms escalation is a myth. Sunny switched formats in 2006 and jettisoned Santa’s sleigh and Mariah Carey’s, um, guinea pigs, but the damage was done. That year, B101 kicked off its Christmas on November 18th.
Two years later, an upstart new claimant to the Christmas throne, Now 97.5, started spinning Bing Crosby on Halloween. B101 took the bait and revved up its carol blitz on November 8th. In the consumer frenzy that led up to the Great Recession, by 2008 there were five stations warbling along with Burl Ives about those freaking partridges in a pear tree. Luckily for us all, by the fall of 2009 the bottom had dropped out, and B101 again found itself alone atop the pile of discarded wrapping paper and ribbons. It’s been kicking Christmas coverage off in mid-November ever since. It became More FM on December 26th in 2013, right after playing Andy Williams’s version of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
So. Sigh. Christmas is coming. If it can’t arrive soon enough for you, you can participate in that More FM Christmas music survey, which went online on October 12th. If, by some miracle, the words and music to every song even negligently nodding toward Christmas haven’t been seared into your brain by relentless repetition, the survey includes brief aural clips of the nominees.
Personally, I’m so disorganized that I never get a jump on holiday shopping. I do have a theory, though, as to why, even as delivery methods and ubiquitous online shopping should allow for a narrower Christmas window, said window opens ever more wide. After all, you have to allow time for your purchases to be delivered sight unseen, open them, decide they’re horrible mistakes that you can’t possibly present to those you love, return them to the sender, and start the whole goddamned thing over again.