- Companies begin selling the winter holidays before trick-or-treating even starts in an attempt to motivate spending. It’s called the “Christmas creep.”
- Retailers like Walmart and Amazon are kicking off the holiday season earlier than ever with sales events.
- This may stir negative feelings and trigger early holiday stress for some.
- Mental health experts say there are simple tips that can help you cope.
No, it’s not just you.
The holidays really do start early these days, and we’re not talking about Halloween. In fact, retailers seem to have put the spooky season on the back burner and are already starting winter holiday sales this year.
Walmart started its year-end holiday sales on Oct. 1, and its competitor Target isn’t far behind. The big box retailer announced it would offer its earliest access ever to holiday deals from Oct. 6-8.
Amazon isn’t missing the early-holiday party either. The juggernaut is debuting Amazon Early Access this year, a two-day period of deals from Oct. 11-12 open to Prime members only.
Walmart, Target, and Amazon are participating in what consumer behavior experts call “The Christmas creep.”
“This is the tendency of retailers — both physical and e-commerce — to try and kick off holiday spending earlier and earlier in the season. For the American consumer, in particular, this tends to be oriented around Christmas gift shopping,” says Matt Johnson, PhD, a professor of consumer psychology at Hult International Business School in Boston, an instructor at Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education, and the author of Branding That Means Business.
The holidays can be a money-making boon for retailers. In 2021, the National Retail Federation said holiday sales jumped 14.1% to a record $886.7 billion, and it appears retailers are banking on a longer season helping their bottom lines this year.
“If a retailer can convince its consumer base that its holiday season begins earlier, the period in which they’ll spend at this higher rate is extended, which means more revenue for the retailer,” Johnson says.
But Johnson and mental health experts say the Christmas creep can backfire more than the Grinch’s attempt to steal Christmas. Notably, it may stress consumers out and turn them off from shopping.
Healthline spoke with mental health experts about the pros and cons of the ‘Christmas creep’ phenomenon, its effects on mental health, and how consumers can avoid the pre-holiday holiday blues.
It’s unclear whether the holidays have actually been starting earlier for retailers each year. But in 2022, retailers are certainly starting early, including inventing new ways to entice customers (see: Amazon’s Early Access event).
In 2021, Walmart at least gave everyone until Oct. 18 before it started Black Friday-style deals. And Target is shamelessly admitting its holiday deals are starting earlier than ever.
So, anecdotally, some retailers are attempting to make the 2022 holiday season the longest yet.
Johnson isn’t surprised.
“Retailers will be as motivated as ever to incite consumer spending this year, given inflation,” Johnson says. “People who have been under tight budgets the whole year may feel justified in splurging during this time of the year, especially if the holiday discounts are significant.”
Customers may be doing more than joking and rolling their eyes when they see a Christmas tree on the floor at a major big box retailer or open an email about Black Friday in October.
The holiday season is supposed to be happy, but some people feel pressure, particularly around money.
“The creep of the holidays can trigger feelings of inadequacy for some,” says Janelle S. Peifer, PhD, LCP, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Richmond and founder of Peifer Psychology. “People may wonder, ‘Am I behind the curve on preparing for the holidays? What if I can’t afford the trappings of the holidays being presented? Am I letting down myself or my family in some way?”
These feelings may be particularly pronounced in 2022 amid inflation. People may not have the same budgets for gift-buying and decor as they did in previous years, as that money is going toward groceries, gas, and other necessities.
“People are feeling stretched thin and worried about finances, and inflation would just add more stress,” says Lena Derhally, LPC, founder of Lena Derhally Psychotherapy and author of The Facebook Narcissist. “I know that people go into debt over holiday shopping without inflation, so imagine how inflation might make that even worse than it already is.”
There isn’t research on how an extended season of holiday deals affects mental health. But generally, data has indicated that the holidays, especially the gift-giving expectations, are stressors.
A small 2021 survey of 500 adults by Sesame, a healthcare provider, indicated that gift shopping was the season’s biggest stress trigger.
A Coinstar survey of 2,000 adults from 2019 had a similar finding. More than half of the respondents said they were experiencing stress over finding the perfect gift.
Adding to this stress could be bad news for retailers. A 2018 study suggested people spend less during the holidays when they are stressed.
Though the holidays can challenge some people mentally and financially, others love the season.
It may not even be about the gifts — just the sight of a lit-up holiday tree makes them happy, too. Experts share that if that’s the case, there’s no shame in decking your halls in October and basking in the glow of an artificial tree set up on the floor at Costco.
“This is particularly true for people who have holiday trees and decorations linked with experiences, loved ones, and recollections,” Peifer says.
The holidays can be stressful, and having them start in October can add to that, particularly if inflation is affecting you.
Experts say it’s understandable if the Christmas creep has you feeling more like the Grinch than Betty Lou Who, but the following tips can help you navigate those negative feelings and stress.
You don’t have to be holly and jolly in October, nor do you need to partake in “Days of Deals” just because they exist. You can decide when the holiday season starts for you, whether that’s today or Dec. 24.
Regardless of which camp you’re in, take a breath before reacting when an email about a holiday sale in October hits your inbox, or you see holiday decorations taking over a store weeks before Halloween.
“Know yourself and notice when the desire is coming from within you, intrinsic motivation, versus what you are told you should feel or do by others, or extrinsic motivation, to gauge what traditions and practice may resonate best for you,” Peifer says.
Make a list and check it twice
Whether you’re into the deals or not, it may be tempting to partake in them. There’s also a chance it could help you save money and check some items off your list. But Derhally says “list” is the keyword here. Having one can help prevent buyer’s remorse, which may only add to your Scrooge-y feelings.
While crafting the list, Derhally suggests asking yourself:
- Do you need to buy everyone on this list something?
- Can you make gifts this year, such as baking or crafting?
- Can you suggest a secret Santa-type exchange with a group, so you only have to get one gift versus gifts for everyone?
“Doing this is a good idea because it asks you to be very intentional and thoughtful about who you spend your money on — where can you trim the fat, and where can you put the focus on what is most important,” Derhally says.
Create a budget and stick to it
Your budget will likely affect your list, or at least what you buy for everyone on it. Derhally suggests budgeting by categories, such as gifts for family, decor, and food.
“This is a good idea because anxiety is about feeling out of control,” Derhally says. “When you make a budget and stick to it, you feel more in control, and that makes you feel better and less stressed.”
Consider the budget a promise to yourself, and avoid breaking it, Derhally says.
“Overspending and buying more than you can afford can create unhealthy amounts of stress and anxiety,” she says.
There are a ton of expectations around the holiday, from making three stops on Christmas Day to one-upping gifts from previous years. It’s OK if 2022 is different. Communicating that ahead of time may alleviate stress, Derhally says.
“Don’t be afraid to assert yourself if you feel that the expectations to buy things around the holidays will send you into a tailspin, or you can’t afford to do too much,” Derhally says.
Discussing money can be challenging, though, as many have been conditioned not to do it.
Derhally suggests saying something like, “Aunt Sally, we would really love to exchange gifts this year, but we are feeling stretched thin financially. Can we get together over coffee and cookies instead?”
“Boundaries also help you feel a sense of control and prevent you from feeling resentment,” she says. “People almost always feel resentful when they don’t have good boundaries and feel taken advantage of…Asserting ourselves with kindness feels good, and we can also offer alternatives that we feel better about.”
Think twice before purchasing
Limited-time offers and language like “last chance” can rush you into buying something you’re on the fence about. Derhally suggests ignoring the marketing jargon, especially this year, as more deals will likely come.
“In many cases, waiting to buy for a few days isn’t going to change anything,” Derhally says. “We don’t always feel good about impulse buys.”
During your couple-day thought process, Derhally recommends asking yourself, “Is this really necessary to buy?”
“We may feel more clear-headed and rational, and the intense urge to buy may pass,” Derhally says.
If you’re going to buy on a whim, at least check the return policy first to ensure you can get your money back if you decide you don’t want it.
Limit social media
Ads, influencers, and old friends who seem to somehow enjoy the Christmas creep can exacerbate stress, Peifer says. It may make you feel like you should be more excited, less stressed, and cheerfully starting your holiday shopping. Avoid FOMO by keeping social media in perspective and potentially taking a temporary break.
“Notice when you feel influenced to do something because you are attempting to capture a fantasy projected on someone’s Instagram or TikTok,” Peifer says.
The holidays can be challenging, and this year has been stressful. Peifer says it can be helpful to speak about your feelings with an objective third-party, such as a therapist.
“Work with a therapist or mental health professional to examine any lingering trauma or pain from early childhood experiences associated with the holidays,” she says. “If the holidays lead to family interactions that feel painful, triggering, or harmful, develop plans to care for yourself, get rest, and hold boundaries.”
If you enjoy the Christmas creep, go ahead and enjoy it
Some people wish the holidays could be a year-round affair. If you fit that bill, don’t let anyone steal your comfort and joy. Go ahead and put that tree up and start playing Mariah Carey on repeat in October — whatever makes you happy.
“[If you love] the holidays, it may be helpful to investigate your expectations and history with the holidays to be able to carve out space for what truly brings joy,” Peifer says. “For someone who enjoys decoration and crafting, there may be a deep, internally-driven desire to put up the tree as soon as possible.”