By the time the Fourth of July picnic supplies migrated from the seasonal aisle to the half-price barrels, the commercial celebration of Christmas was already well underway.
Judging from the music, the decorations, and even the shopping day countdowns that somehow find their way into stores before the back-to-school sales are over, Dec. 25 is coming earlier every year.
Do we care? That's what Maritz AmeriPoll of St. Louis, the nation's largest custom marketing research firm, sought to determine once and for all when it recently undertook a scientific survey on the issue: How early is too early for Christmas?
The results, released last week, reveal a surprising chasm between the "extremely annoyed" faction and the "annoyed not at all" camp.
Or, as the pollsters put it, "Americans are fairly evenly split over when exactly 'tis the season to be jolly."
Asked whether the holiday season should be limited to the last six weeks of the year or whether any date after Independence Day should be fair game for marketeers bent on decking the halls, only 14% of the 1,000 shoppers polled didn't care one way or the other.
Most cared a lot. Asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how much it bothered them to see stores displaying holiday merchandise before Halloween, a full 40% said they are extremely or very annoyed when stores and catalogs "trot out the Yuletide trappings before most people have even finished carving their jack-o'-lanterns."
But, at the other end of the seasonal spectrum, 37% said they are not at all annoyed. In fact, they eagerly await the first scent of the holiday shopping rush--tinselled trees and plastic Santas included.
About 7% rated their distaste for this premature merchant enthusiasm for the most profitable time of the year as only "somewhat annoying."
Why the wide split?
According to Maritz's reading of its sample, it is possible to conclude that the older you get, the more annoyed you are with the ever-earlier arrival of Christmas retailing. Just 25% of respondents aged 18 to 24 reported feeling extremely or very annoyed by it, while 41% of people over 65 felt that way.
As for how much money those polled planned to spend for Christmas, the survey suggests that the level of annoyance and even income makes little difference.
The researchers also found no dramatic differences in men's reactions from those of women--although there were no women among the few who flatly refused to share any feelings at all about the early Christmas issue with pollsters. (Perhaps the question itself annoyed them.)
With Christmas now only 42 days away, it's time to begin thinking about next year's holiday marketing question: Does anybody still believe in Santa Claus?