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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Only 81 shopping days to go...
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online Magazine

81 shopping days graphic
Woolworths is starting its Christmas season a full three weeks earlier than last year, and the first festive displays have already begun to appear in shops. Summer's only just over and the two-month Christmas marathon has begun.

"So here it is merry Christmas, everybody's having fun."

More to the point, so here it is early-October, and everybody's having to put up with festive background music and seasonal advertising for longer than ever before.

The Christmas shopping season is about to begin again. Woolworths is getting ahead of its High Street rivals by starting three weeks earlier than last year - with plans to get its seasonal stock on the shelves by mid-October.

It might not even be Halloween yet, but in the retailers' calendar, the starting gun for Christmas has already been fired.

In fact, in the upmarket department store, Harrods, festivities have already been going for months, as it opened its Christmas department in August.

Walking in an autumn wonderland

And the reason for such an early start at Woolworths? It's all our own fault. A spokesperson for the retail chain says that its customer focus groups have shown that people want a longer time for Christmas shopping - and that the store is responding to customer demand.

Santas
Santa's sleigh is running ahead of schedule this year

"We're just giving customers what they want," says the Woolworths' spokesperson. And staff, who will have the daily delight of Christmas-themed music and decorations, will not be jaded by the experience. "The staff all enjoy it," she says.

Anyone with a tinsel allergy might also point to the importance of Christmas to the retail trade. Last Christmas Eve, shoppers were spending at the rate of 1.6m per minute, according to Sainsbury's Bank.

"There are some people who say that it starts a little early," says a Harrods spokesperson. "But most customers like it that way."

And recognising the risk of Christmas fatigue, the shop's full array of decorations and displays won't be put up until early November, when Father Christmas also makes his first appearance.

Like the start of the football season, the Christmas selling season keeps getting nudged back further in the calendar.

Switching on the Regent Street lights in London will be a week earlier this year, on 7 November. The reason? It's the spirit of peace, love, goodwill to mankind... oh, and it's tied into the launch schedule of a new movie.

It was only a winter's retail

With the big shops turning Christmas into a two-month marathon, it's not surprising that individuals are also beginning the festivities only a few weeks after they've got back from the summer holidays.

Christmas shoppers
Christmas shopping crowds spend 1.6m per minute
In Birmingham, the local paper reports on a "Christmas crazy couple" who have already decorated the outside of their house with fairy lights and giant Santas and the guttering has been filled with plastic icicles.

Needless to say, once one family puts up the first "Santa Stop Here!" sign in the front garden, others will soon follow. And across the country, people with more light bulbs than Las Vegas, will begin their own seasonal illuminations.

A pub in Bury St Edmund's has already gone into Jingle Bells-mode, explaining its early showing of Christmas decorations as a useful reminder to customers that... er... Christmas is only a few weeks away.

But this month could also see a fight back against the commercialisation of Christmas.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, wants to protect Christmas as a special day. He has been campaigning to stop big shops from opening on Christmas Day.

It was Christmas day in the workplace...

This follows concerns from the shopworkers' union, Usdaw, that a growing number of shops were beginning to treat 25 December as just another shopping day - and that check-out staff would be expected to work instead of being with their families.

Regent Street
Regent Street lights will be turned on a week earlier this year

To turn back this tide, Mr Jones put forward a private members' bill which would stop big shops from opening on Christmas Day.

And next week, the Christmas Day (Trading) Bill will face its last parliamentary hurdle - with Mr Jones confident that it will be passed and will receive Royal Assent before Christmas.

"We should have one day when there is peace and quiet and people can spend time with their family," he says.

Support for his proposals are a reflection of concerns about an over-commercialised Christmas, he says. "The stress and expense of Christmas can mean heartache for people - and it won't be helped by starting earlier."


Have you spotted any early signs of Christmas? Tell us where and when using the form below.

I could not believe it when a few weeks ago I spied Christmas cake decorations along with bags of walnuts adorned by festive tags in my local Tesco (Ilford). In an effort to be well prepared I did look out for Easter eggs - before they all sold out - but I guess I was too late.
Alan Miles, UK

You are so behind - some shops in Chelmsford started three weeks ago. Personally, I can wait until Christmas Eve before finally giving in to the urge to buy flashing novelty musical Santa socks. Strikes me from the 93% in your "not indicative of public opinion" that the timetable is more to do with card shops wanting to flog their next delivery of occasion cards (nurses' day, grandparents' day, bosses' day anyone?) more than the public "demanding" earlier chances to shop. It's all so grim.
Al Hunter, UK

I work at Asda and I've already seen countless deliveries of Christmas stock. One part of the warehouse is already full with festive chocolates, decorations and the like. Halloween, on the other hand, has but a small corner of the store to occupy.
Jonathon Aspinall, Manchester, UK

Birmingham city centre had Christmas lights in place yesterday. Not sure are they "on" yet but I am sure it wont be long now....
Andrew Hurst, England

I tried to buy my boyfriend a birthday card last Saturday - to find the shelves already full of Christmas cards. I haven't even had my summer holiday yet.
Lisa, UK

Our local garden centre in Queensferry North Wales holds its Christmas launch tomorrow night. This includes all the normal sales, but also crafts and events for children and adults.
Helen, UK

Boots in Wimbledon had Christmas cards, wrapping paper and gifts in store in September. Ridiculous.
Rebecca Wilson, UK

Sainsbury's had Christmas chocolates on its shelves last month. Can we not have a law where the festive season starts after Bonfire Night?
Peter, UK

My local Sainsbury's (Woking) started this nonsense in the middle of September. I don't want it, nobody that I know wants it, so who exactly are they trying to please ?
Jan, UK

paperchase in brighton had christmas cards on sale over a week ago...
anna o'brien, UK

Tesco in Finchley Central on 4 October. Christmas decorations were being sold.
Katherine, London, UK

Tesco in Crawley, West Sussex, has Christmas displays of nuts & dates etc. Noticed this weekend (3 October).
Bruce Wraight, UK

Somerfield in Birmingham have been selling Christmas things since the end of August.
Sarah, uk

Staff filling shelves with Xmas puddings in Sainsbury in Wandsworth Road SW8, 13:00 on 5th Oct.
Steve williams, UK

Went into my local Somerfield (Haslemere) looking for wrapping paper for a birthday present and came out with Christmas wrapping paper instead.
Jen, UK

The British are lucky. My wife is from the Philippines where they begin celebrating Christmas from the 1st of September. We have a battle every year to delay putting up the Christmas tree before bonfire night.
Sam, UK

Marks and Spencers in Putney - Christmas puddings, Advent calendars on display during the last week in September. Boots in Putney had Christmas crackers in their window on 27 September!
Ciaran, UK

Early Learning Centre in Crawley was playing Christmas music on Sunday - horrendous.
Nicky, UK

I bought my Christmas pudding in a supermarket at the end of August, and a Christmas cake in September. They were selling Yule Logs with a use by date of October 2004.
Rob Jones, UK

My local Asda had a fully-fledged Christmas aisle over three weeks ago. Make it stop!
Emma, UK

John Lewis in Kingston put its Christmas decoration department in on Saturday.
Mark, UK

Tesco's in Abergele - the shelves are full of Chrismas goodies!!
Gwenda , UK

Debenhams and The Pier in the Trafford Centre both had their Christmas decorations up in early September.
Ben, UK

I spotted Christmas stuff in Waitrose while on my SUMMER holiday in Bath last week.
Andrew Sage, UK

The Beefeater restaurant near where I live in Nottingham already has a christmas tree lit up outside...
Jon, UK

My milkman popped the Christmas 2004 hamper catalogue through my letterbox all the way back in February!
Paul Bambury, UK

How can we be sure that these shop displays are not for christmas 2006?
Ian, UK

Butlers in Berlin has filled its windows with bows, tree decorations and other festive knick-knacks. It's a sunny 25 degrees today.
Ian Warner, Germany

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