You know the feeling. Every year, right around the end of October, you see that first holiday shopping add. You pause and think to yourself, “Is this real life? Are they really pushing these ads on me before Thanksgiving, let alone Halloween?!” Personally, I am always shocked by what seem continually more aggressive and premature holiday campaigns. I could swear that every year they start a week earlier than the last, but after doing a bit of research I discovered that isn’t the case. Even more intriguing is that the practice of bombarding shoppers with early holiday shopping ads started over a century ago!
There is evidence as far back as 1885, in the late Victorian era. In addition to ” inventing cash registers, mail-order catalogues, and escalator-filled flagship stores,” Victorians discovered the benefit of starting Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. In this exuberant ad by South Carolina, Wilhite & Wilhite, the all-caps message is broadcast loud and clear that if you want to be loved by your family this holiday season, you best get started early on your shopping lists!
While this new trend of early shopping had some people up in arms, there were some noteworthy staunch supporters of pre-Thanksgiving shopping. “Progressive titan Florence Kelley, better known today as a co-founder of the NAACP,” wrote an essay (confusingly called), The Travesty of Christmas, which surprisingly was not against early holiday shopping, but instead, for it. In her defense of the early shopping season, Kelly suggested that the chaos of the December shopping rush brought “”a bitter inversion of the order of holiday cheer” for overworked sales associates. This argument also tied into her stance that unfair work hours and child labor abuses were most exacerbated during the December holiday shopping season. Thus, Kelly created the “Shop Early Campaign” which acted as a marketing juggernaut over the next decade, helping to distribute tens of thousands of posters in support of early shopping.
By 1918, the early shopping revolution was complete. By then, even the government had a part in solidifying the new trend. In a rater unexpected move, the The Council of National Defense associated early shopping with being a true patriot, launching a bold Christmas campaign titled: “Take the Crush out of Your Christmas Shopping and Put It Into Winning the War.”
By the time the war was over, retailers’ love for the tradition was enough to guarantee it’s survival inevitably. Once we hit the 1940’s, “early Christmas shopping had fermented into the potent historical brew of idealism, patriotism, and sheer retail gluttony that we know today.” And while we might not ever get used to seeing Christmas shopping ads in September, it has become, and likely will always be, a predictable (and highly lucrative) holiday shopping tradition. Speaking of which, how far have you made it down your holiday shopping list??