Last September, Kmart aired a Christmas ad 105 days before Christmas. AdAge said it was the “earliest ever kickoff to holiday marketing,” and an analyst the publication reached out to called Kmart’s extreme timing “eye-opening.” “This might give new meaning to … ‘Christmas Creep,’” another retail expert added, using a phrase coined in the '80s to refer to retailers' practice of starting holiday marketing earlier every season.
A year, it seems, is just enough time to forget exactly when Christmas ads begin to appear. Holiday marketing has reliably started at the same time for over a century, as Paul Collins has noted in Slate, so it’s really less of a creep and more of a hard line. Contrary to AdAge’s proclamation, some ads have run as early as August.
Commencing the holiday-shopping season early was originally a retail contrivance in the late Victorian era, Collins explains, but over the years, the habit became culturally ingrained thanks to the help of other movements: It’s been championed by progressives (shopping early put less strain on the labor force during the holidays, lessening the need for child labor) and the federal government (September shopping relieved the shipping bottleneck that would arise during the holidays).