January 18, 2020

Why Does Christmas Start in October?

Photo from Pixabay.

Have you noticed that Christmas seems to come earlier each year? It’s technically on Dec. 25, but in terms of that tangible moment when the Christmas “spirit” starts, it’s more like October. Maybe even September.

I swear I saw Christmas tree ornaments at a crafts store in late August. I may be Jewish, but to me, that’s sacrilegious.

Speaking of sacrilegious, Puritans in Boston in 1659 made it a criminal offense to publicly celebrate Christmas, alleging a certain sinfulness in all the merrymaking. Maybe someone had put up decorations a little too soon and angered the towns-folk. That law was among those revoked in 1681.

I’m one of those Jews who loves singing along to nonreligious Christmas tunes — more “Jingle Bell Rock” and less “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” And although I love all the decorations in the stores and on the streets, their early arrival is becoming ridiculous.

There must be some psychological reasons behind all this.

Scientists theorize putting up Christmas decorations earlier makes people happier, according to a November 2017 story in London’s Evening Standard. “In a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of childhood,” psychoanalyst Steve McKeown said.

I guess because we’re living in a time of such divisiveness, maybe some early holiday cheer can help lift our moods. I recall there were some Democrats who went overboard with holiday decor after Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016. If he is re-elected next year, they may have to start their own reindeer farm.

“Therapy reindeer” could be a huge draw.

Still, I’m not convinced that the Christmas “spirit” seems to arrive earlier each year because we are more stressed.

I’m not convinced that the Christmas “spirit” seems to arrive earlier each year because we are more stressed.

I wondered if Jews in Israel catch the Hanukkah bug early. If the Christmas “spirit” is unleashed early because we’re under so much stress, wouldn’t it make sense for Israelis — who endure proxy wars, rocket attacks and relentless international demonization — to start celebrating Hanukkah three months early?

“The only sign of Hanukkah before it actually starts is all the sufganiyot (doughnuts) that seem to pop up right after the High Holy Days,” a friend in Israel observed.

Early arrival of doughnuts. Now there’s an inspiring holiday consumer trend.

I asked a friend who is in her 90s if she recalled the holiday season in the early 1940s. The U.S. was embroiled in a world war and collective stress was palpable, so by all reasoning, the Christmas spirit should have been evident months before December.

“Not at all,” she said. “Stores put up decorations two, maybe three weeks before Christmas. Anything earlier than that would have been too suggestive.”

Too suggestive of what? I asked.

“It would have seemed like Christmas was all about money and spending money at the stores, instead of something more meaningful.”

Bingo. Money, money, money.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but money considerations aside, it seems silly for Jews to kick off the Hanukkah holiday weeks or months in advance.

Maybe Jews, whether in Israel or the United States, simply don’t feel the need to “go all out” once a year because we light candles every week — on Shabbat.

You don’t have to keep all the laws of Shabbat to be affected by its power to “decorate” your home and lift your mood with all things wonderful: food, family and even the good china plates,  which others normally reserve for only Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I still love the holiday spirit, even if it starts ridiculously early. But because Jews excel at complaining, would it kill someone to pass out the doughnuts a little earlier next year?


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker.