Happy Holidays!

PUBLISHED: September 24, 2013

Reporting from the aisles of a Costco store, my wife, Amy, has relayed word that Christmas decorations are already in view.

Why not? Home-shopping channels did “Christmas in July” for so many weeks this year that it drifted right into Christmas in August and Christmas in September. Recently, a store at our local mall simultaneously featured a back-to-school sale, a Halloween sale and discounts on Christmas ornaments.

The entire calendar is being rushed. Kids have been back at school so long they're ready for a vacation.

And didn't flu shots used to be given around, say, Columbus Day? This year our pharmacy launched the program in early August. The theory seems to be that while customers may be confused, at least their arms are more easily accessible in short sleeves.

It’s no wonder that summer vacation—or what’s left of it after being squeezed at both ends—is so hurried that “a bag of books to take to the beach” has been replaced for some of us by a bundle of Kindle’s sample chapters.

Presidents used to knock off for so long in summer that places where they relaxed were given official-sounding names like the Western White House.

Television networks traditionally had the good sense to hibernate in summer, with reruns and fill-ins whose main virtue seemed to be inspiring folks to get off the couch and out of the house. But no more. Programmers are seducing us with original fare, like the sci-fi drama “Under the Dome” on CBS, summer’s monster hit. Even the AMC hit “Breaking Bad,” after a hiatus, started the second half of its final season in mid-July. The final “Breaking Bad” episode airs at the end of September—the month when first episodes of TV series used to land.

This year Wal-Mart began its Christmas campaign on Aug. 22, and Kmart ran a commercial on Sept. 8 starring a gingerbread man. Toys “R’’ Us has already issued its list of the “hottest” Christmas toys. According to whom? A lot of parents still haven’t gotten around to putting away their kids’ swimsuits and summer clothes.

Apparently retailers anxious to get going because they’re worried about Thanksgiving: It comes “late” this year, on Nov. 28. Maybe they should adopt Canada’s commercially friendly calendar, with Thanksgiving falling on the second Monday in October—Black Tuesday anyone?

Jews have a legitimate excuse to start their Hanukkah shopping earlier than ever. Thanks to vicissitudes of the Lunar Calendar, Hanukkah this year starts the evening of Nov. 27; last year it was Dec. 8, and the year before, Dec. 20.

Most people assume that retailers prefer the term “holiday season” to any mention of Christmas or Hanukkah because we’ve become so religiously correct that merchants fear backlash. I don’t think so. It’s more likely that “holiday season” is just a one-size-fits-all ploy to excuse starting marketing campaigns whenever they feel like it. Black Friday used to signal the start of Christmas shopping; now it marks the beginning of price-cutting competitions that used to be known as after-Christmas sales.

Some may accuse me of committing the same sin I’m accusing retailers of committing. Every year, after all, commentators complain that the seasons are being rushed, but we usually don’t pen those pieces until mid-October. Well, nowadays that would be too late.

In science fiction, it is often suggested that if you could speed forward fast enough, faster than the speed of light, you would go back in time. We’re risking a converse phenomenon with the calendar. If we rush forward any faster, we’ll whiz past this year’s events and collide with those in the future.

Allow me to be the first to wish you happy holidays, 2014.

(c) Peter Funt. This column first appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

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