Thanksgiving comes with many traditions… turkey, stuffing, family, football, black Friday shopping, and (of course!) whining about how the stores are decorating for Christmas too early! We’ve all heard complaints that Christmas is coming earlier and earlier each year, but is that really true? Let’s find out.
Of course, there’s not really any available data on when stores around the country start decorating for Christmas (at least to my knowledge). So answering the question required some creativity. I started thinking – if there was one thing that represented corporate America’s Christmas decorating traditions, what would it be? The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, of course!
First erected in 1933, the Rockefeller Center tree has been set up every year since and has become an unofficial start of the Christmas season for New Yorkers. And, since Rockefeller Center is without a doubt a bastion of American corporatism, the tree gives us a relatively good proxy for measuring the start of the corporate Christmas decorating season. If the tree at Rockefeller Center has been going up earlier every year, there’s a good chance that’s indicative of a larger national trend.
So, I decided to see when the Rockefeller tree went up over time. At great personal expense (OK, it was $.99), I purchased a 4-week subscription to the New York Times, which gave me access to their article archive going all the way back to the mid-1800s. Then, starting in 1933, I searched the archives for articles related to the Rockefeller tree between the dates of November 1 and December 31 each year. To keep things consistent, I located the specific date on which the tree was installed in its stand each year, since traditions surrounding decorating and lighting ceremonies have changed over time. Surprisingly, I was able to find an exact date the tree was dropped into place in 40 out of 82 years – not too shabby, and plenty of data for some basic statistics.
To graph the results, I calculated the number of days before Christmas that the tree was installed each year – a measure I’ve affectionately dubbed the “Little Saint Nick index,” since the only thing worse than decorating for Christmas in October is having the Beach Boys put out a holiday album. I graphed this measure over time, and the results are pretty striking.
In the late thirties and early forties, the Rockefeller Center tree was installed around the first or second week of December. By the seventies, Center staff were flirting with putting up the tree before Thanksgiving. And, in the noughties, the tree was going up in early November. All told, the installation date for the tree has moved back nearly a full month over time, at an average rate of just under half a day per year. (And, yes, the results are statistically significant.)
So, there you have it folks. If the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is any guide, corporate America has definitely been getting out the decorations earlier every year.