Winter-holiday season

"Christmas season" redirects here. For other uses, see Christmas season (disambiguation).

Christmas and holiday season
wide observation of Christmas and the season
Also called
Type Varied
Significance Observance of multiple religious and non-religious holidays and a festive season
Observances Gift giving, family meetings, religious services, parties, other holiday-specific traditions
Begins Late November
Ends Early January (usually after either New Year's Day or Epiphany)
Date
2013 date
2014 date
2015 date
2016 date
Related to Christmas Day (Eve), New Year's Day (Eve), Thanksgiving (US), Hanukkah, Yule, Epiphany, Kwanzaa (US), Winter solstice, others

The Christmas season,[1][2] also called the holiday season (especially in the U.S. and Canada),[3][4] the festive season,[5] or simply the holidays, is an annually-recurring period recognized in Western culture and Western-influenced cultures that is generally considered to run from late November to early January,[6][7] defined as incorporating at least Christmas and usually New Year's, and sometimes various other holidays and festivals. It incorporates a period of shopping which comprises a peak season for the retail sector (the "Christmas (or holiday) shopping season"), and a period of sales at the end of the season (the "January sales").

Originally, the term "Christmas season" in Western culture was considered synonymous with Christmastide,[8][9] a term itself derived from Yuletide, which runs from December 25 (Christmas Day) to January 6 (Epiphany), popularly known as the 12 Days of Christmas. However, as the economic impact involving the anticipatory lead-up to Christmas Day grew in America and Western Europe into the 19th and 20th centuries, the term "Christmas season" began to become synonymous instead with the traditional Christian Advent season,[9][10] the period observed in Western Christianity from the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day until Christmas Day itself. The term "Advent calendar" survives in secular Western parlance as a term referring to a countdown to Christmas Day from the beginning of December.

Beginning in the mid-20th century, as the Christian-associated Christmas holiday became increasingly secularized and central to American economics and culture while religio-multicultural sensitivity rose, generic references to the season that omitted the word "Christmas" became more common in the corporate and public sphere of the United States,[11] which has caused a semantics controversy[12] that continues to the present. By the late 20th century, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and the African American cultural holiday of Kwanzaa began to be considered in the U.S. as being part of the "holiday season", a term that by the beginning of the 21st century would become equally or more prevalent than "Christmas season" in U.S. sources to refer to the end-of-the-year festive period.[11][13][14] "Holiday season" has also spread in varying degrees to Canada[15] and Australasia,[16][17] however in the United Kingdom, the phrase "holiday season" is not widely understood to be synonymous with the Christmas–New Year period, and is often instead associated with summer holidays.[18]

History

Christian origins

In the Christian tradition the Christmas season is a period beginning on Christmas Day (December 25). In some churches (e.g. the Anglican Communion) the season continues until the day before the Epiphany, which is celebrated either on January 6 or on the Sunday between January 2 and 8. In other churches (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church) it continues until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on the Sunday following the Epiphany, or on the Monday following the Epiphany if the Epiphany is moved to 7 or January 8. If the Epiphany is kept on January 6, the Church of England's use of the term Christmas season corresponds to the Twelve Days of Christmas, and ends on Twelfth Night.

This short Christmas season is preceded by Advent, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day: the majority of the secularized Christmas and holiday season falls during Advent. The Anglican Communion and some Protestant churches follow the Christmas season with an Epiphany season which lasts until the day before Ash Wednesday which is also known as Mardi Gras or 'Fat Tuesday'. Other European cultures have their own carnival festivities between new year and Lent.
Further information: carnival in the Netherlands

Secularization and commercialization

According to Yanovski et al.,[6] in the United States the holiday season "is generally considered to begin with the day after Thanksgiving and end after New Year's Day". According to Axelrad,[7] the season in the United States encompasses at least Christmas and New Year's Day, and also includes Saint Nicholas Day. The U.S. Fire Administration[19] defines the "Winter Holiday Season" as the period from December 1 to January 7. According to Chen et al.,[20] in China the Christmas and holiday season "is generally considered to begin with the winter solstice and end after the Lantern Festival". Some stores and shopping malls advertise their Christmas merchandise beginning after Halloween or even in late October, alongside Halloween items. In the UK and Ireland, Christmas food generally appears on supermarket shelves as early as September or even August, while the Christmas shopping season itself starts from mid November when the high street Christmas lights are switched on.[21][22]

The precise definition of feasts and festival days that are encompassed by the Christmas and holiday season has become controversial in the U.S. over recent decades. While in other countries the only holidays included in the "season" are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St. Stephen's Day/Boxing Day, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and Epiphany, in recent times, this definition in the U.S. has begun to expand to include Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, Festivus, and Black Friday.[23] Due to the phenomenon of Christmas creep and the informal inclusion of Thanksgiving, the Christmas and holiday season has begun to extend earlier into the year, overlapping Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night in commonwealth countries. Radio stations in North America typically begin playing Christmas music in the middle of November, shortly before American Thanksgiving. Similarly, Valentine's Day and Easter products are available in many shops even before Christmas.

Shopping

The exchange of gifts is central to the Christmas and holiday season, and the season thus also incorporates a "holiday shopping season". This comprises a peak season for the retail sector at the start of the holiday season (the "Christmas shopping season") and a period of sales at the end of the season, the "January sales".

Although once dedicated mostly to white sales and clearance sales, the January sales now comprise both winter close-out sales and sales comprising the redemption of gift cards given as presents.[24][25] Young-Bean Song, director of analytics at the Atlas Institute in Seattle, states that it is a "myth that the holiday shopping season starts with Thanksgiving and ends with Christmas. January is a key part of the holiday season." stating that for the U.S. e-commerce sector January sales volumes matched December sales volumes in the 2004/2005 Christmas and holiday season.[26]

Many people find this time particularly stressful.[27] As a remedy, and as a return to what they perceive as the root of Christmas, some practice alternative giving.

North America

In the United States, the Christmas/holiday shopping season, during which a quarter of all personal spending takes place,[28] is traditionally considered to commence on the day after American Thanksgiving, a Friday colloquially known as either Black Friday or Green Friday. This is widely reputed to be the busiest shopping day of the entire calendar year. However, in 2004 the VISA credit card organization reported that over the previous several years VISA credit card spending had in fact been 8 to 19 percent higher on the last Saturday before Christmas Day (i.e., Super Saturday) than on Black Friday.[29] A survey conducted in 2005 by GfK NOP discovered that "Americans aren't as drawn to Black Friday as many retailers may think.", with only 17% of those polled saying that they will begin holiday shopping immediately after Thanksgiving, 13% saying that they plan to finish their shopping before November 24, and 10% waiting until the very last day before performing their holiday gift shopping.[30]


According to a survey by the Canadian Toy Association, peak sales in the toy industry occur in the Christmas and holiday season, but this peak has been occurring later and later in the season every year.[31]

In 2005, the ceremonial kick-off to the Christmas and holiday season for online shopping, the first Monday after US Thanksgiving, was named Cyber Monday. However, although it was a peak, that was not the busiest on-line shopping day of that year. The busiest on-line shopping days were December 12 and December 13, almost two weeks later; the second Monday in December has since become known as Green Monday. Another notable day is Free Shipping Day, a promotional day that serves as the last day in which a person can order a good online and have it arrive via standard shipping (the price of which the sender pays) prior to Christmas Eve; this day is usually on or near December 16.[32] Four of the largest 11 on-line shopping days in 2005 were December 11 to 16, with an increase of 12% over 2004 figures.[33] In 2011, Cyber Monday was slightly busier than Green Monday and Free Shipping Day, although all three days registered sales of over US$1 billion, and all three days registered gains ranging from 14% to 22% over the previous year.[32] Analysts had predicted the peak on December 12, noting that Mondays are the most popular days for on-line shopping during the holiday shopping season, in contrast to the middle of the week during the rest of the year. They attribute this to people "shopping in stores and malls on the weekends, and [...] extending that shopping experience when they get into work on Monday" by "looking for deals, [...] comparison shopping and [...] finding items that were out of stock in the stores".[26]


In 2006, the average US household is expected to spend about $1,700 on Christmas and holiday spendings.[34] Retail strategists such as ICSC Research[35] observed in 2005 that 15% of holiday expenditures were in the form of gift certificates and that that share of expenditures was rising. On the basis of that they recommended to retailers a strategy of managing their inventories for the entire holiday shopping season with a leaner inventory at the beginning of the season and the addition of fresh winter merchandise for the January sales.

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist and director of research for the Shopping Center Council, states that he expects gift certificate usage to be between US$30billion and US$40billion in the 2006/2007 holiday shopping season. On the basis of the growing popularity of gift certificates, he states that "To get a true picture of holiday sales, one may consider measuring November, December and January sales combined as opposed to just November and December sales.", because with "a hefty amount of that spending not hitting the books until January, extending the length of the season makes sense".[36]

According to the Deloitte 2007 Holiday Survey,[37] for the fourth straight year, gift cards are expected to be the top gift purchase in 2007, with more than two-thirds (69 percent) of consumers surveyed planning to buy them, compared with 66 percent in 2006. In addition, holiday shoppers are planning to buy even more cards this year: an average of 5.5 cards, compared with the 4.6 cards they planned to buy last year. One in six consumers (16 percent) plan to buy 10 or more cards, compared with 11 percent last year. Consumers are also spending more in total on gift cards and more per card: $36.25 per card on average compared with $30.22 last year. Gift cards continue to grow in acceptance: Almost four in 10 consumers surveyed (39 percent) would rather get a gift card than merchandise, an increase from last year’s 35 percent. Also, resistance to giving gift cards continues to decline: 19 percent say they don’t like to give gift cards because they’re too impersonal (down from 22 percent last year). Consumers said that the cards are popular gifts for adults, teens and children alike, and almost half (46 percent) intend to buy them for immediate family; however, they are hesitant to buy them for spouses or significant others, with only 14 percent saying they plan to buy them for those recipients.

Some stores in Canada hold Boxing Week sales (before the end of the year) for income tax purposes.

Christmas creep

Main article: Christmas creep

What has become known as "Christmas creep" refers to a merchandising phenomenon in which merchants and retailers exploit the commercialized status of Christmas by moving up the start of the holiday shopping season.[38] The term was first used in the mid-1980s,[39] and is associated with a desire of merchants to take advantage of particularly heavy Christmas-related shopping well before Black Friday in the United States and before Halloween in Canada.

The term is not used in the UK and Ireland, where retailers call Christmas the "golden quarter", that is, the three months of October through December is the quarter of the year in which the retail industry hopes to make the most profit.[40] It can apply for other holidays as well, notably Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day.

Europe

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, the Christmas shopping season starts from mid November, around the time when high street Christmas lights are turned on.[21][22] In the UK in 2010, up to £8 billion was expected to be spent online at Christmas, approximately a quarter of total retail festive sales.[22] Retailers in the UK call Christmas the "golden quarter", that is, the three months of October through December is the quarter of the year in which the retail industry hopes to make most money.[41]

In France, the January sales are restricted by legislation to no more than four weeks in Paris, and no more than six weeks for the rest of the country, usually beginning on the first Wednesday in January, and are one of only two periods of the year when retailers are permitted to hold sales.[42][43]

In Italy, the January sales begin on the first weekend in January, and last for at least six weeks.[42]

In Germany, the Winterschlussverkauf (winter close-out sale) was one of two official sales periods (the other being the Sommerschlussverkauf, the summer sales). It began on the last Monday in January and would last for 12 days, selling left-over goods from the holiday shopping season. However, unofficially, goods were sold at reduced prices by many stores throughout the whole of January and by the time that the sales officially begin the only goods left on sale are low-quality ones, often specially manufactured for the sales.[44][45] Since a legislative reform to the corresponding law in 2004,[46] season close-out sales are now allowed over the whole year and no more restricted to season-related goods. However, voluntary sales still called "Winterschlussverkauf" take place further on in most stores at the same time every year.

In Sweden, where the First of Advent marks the start of the Christmas and holiday season, continuing with Saint Lucy's Day on December 13, followed up by Christmas before the Mellandagsrea (between days sell off) begins on December 27 (nowadays often December 26 or even December 25) and lasts during the rest of the Christmas holiday. It is similar to Black Friday, but lasts longer. They last 34–35 days

In Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, holiday sales starts in the middle of December and last for at least one month.

Greetings

A selection of goodwill greetings are often used around the world to address strangers, family, coworkers or friends during the season. Some greetings are more prevalent than others, depending on culture and location. Traditionally, the predominant greetings of the season have been "Merry Christmas", "Happy Christmas", and "Happy New Year". In the mid-to-late 20th century in the United States, more generic greetings such as "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" began to rise in cultural prominence, and this would later spread to other Western countries including Canada, Australia, and to a lesser extent some European countries. A 2012 poll by Rasmussen Reports indicated that 68% of Americans prefer the use of "Merry Christmas", while 23% preferred "Happy Holidays".[12] A similarly-timed Canadian poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid indicated that 72% of Canadians preferred "Merry Christmas".[15]

Merry Christmas and Happy Christmas

The greetings and farewells "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Christmas" are traditionally used in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australasia, starting a few weeks before Christmas (December 25) each year.

Variations are:

  • "Merry Christmas", the traditionally used greeting for those from North America and the UK, composed of merry (jolly, happy) and Christmas (Old English: Cristes mæsse, for Christ's Mass).
  • "Merry Xmas", with the "X" replacing "Christ" (see Xmas), dating back to the early days of Christianity, with the Greek letter "χ" being the first letter in Christ (Χριστος).
  • "Happy Christmas", an equivalent that is also often used in the United Kingdom and Ireland.


As of 2005, "Merry Christmas" remains popular in countries with large Christian populations, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Philippines, and parts of Western Europe not affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox rites.

It also remains popular in the largely non-Christian nations of China and Japan, where Christmas is celebrated primarily due to Western cultural influences. Though it has somewhat decreased in popularity in the United States and Canada over the past decades, polls from 2005 indicate that it remains more popular than "Happy Holidays" or other alternatives.[47]

History of the phrase

"Merry", derived from the Old English myrige, originally meant merely "pleasant, agreeable" rather than joyous or jolly (as in the phrase "merry month of May").[48] Christmas has been celebrated since the 4th century AD, the first known usage of any Christmas greeting dates was in 1565, when it appeared in The Hereford Municipal Manuscript: "And thus I comytt you to God, who send you a mery Christmas."[48] "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" (thus incorporating two greetings) was in an informal letter written by an English admiral in 1699. The same phrase is contained in the 16th century secular English carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," and the first commercial Christmas card, produced in England in 1843.

Also in 1843, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was published, during the mid Victorian revival of the holiday. The word Merry was then beginning to take on its current meaning of "jovial, cheerful, jolly and outgoing".[48] "Merry Christmas" in this new context figured prominently in A Christmas Carol. The cynical Ebenezer Scrooge rudely deflects the friendly greeting: "If I could work my will.. every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding."[49] After the visit from the Ghosts of Christmas effects his transformation, Scrooge exclaims; "I am as merry as a school-boy. A merry Christmas to everybody!" and heartily exchanges the wish to all he meets.[50] The instant popularity of A Christmas Carol, the Victorian era Christmas traditions it typifies, and the term's new meaning appearing in the book popularized the phrase "Merry Christmas".[51][52]

The alternative "Happy Christmas" gained usage in the late 19th century, and is still common in the UK and Ireland alongside "Merry Christmas". One reason may be the Methodist Victorian middle-class influence in attempting to separate wholesome celebration of the Christmas season from common lower-class public insobriety and associated asocial behaviour, at a time when merry also meant "tipsy" or "drunk". Queen Elizabeth II is said to prefer "Happy Christmas" for this reason.[48] In the American poet Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (1823), the final line, originally written as "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night", has been changed in many later editions to "Merry Christmas to all", perhaps indicating the relative popularity of the phrases in the USA.

Happy Holidays

For other meanings of "Happy Holidays", see Happy Holidays (disambiguation).

In the United States, "Happy Holidays" (along with the similarly generalized "Season's Greetings") has become a common holiday greeting in the public sphere of department stores, public schools and greeting cards. Its use is generally confined to the period between United States Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. American use of the term "Happy Holidays" to replace "Merry Christmas" dates back at least to the 1970s[53] and was a common phrase relating to the Christmas season at least going back to the 1890s.[54] The term may have gained popularity with the Irving Berlin song "Happy Holidays" (released in 1942 and included in the film Holiday Inn).


In the United States, it can have several variations and meanings:

  • As "Happy Holiday", an English translation of the Hebrew Hag Sameach greeting on Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot.
  • As "Happy Holiday", a substitution for "Merry Christmas".
  • As "Happy Holidays", a collective and inclusive wish for the period encompassing Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Winter solstice, Christmas Day (The Nativity of the Lord), Boxing Day (St. Stephen's Day), the New Year and Epiphany.
  • As "Happy Holidays", a shortened form of the greeting "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

The increasing usage of "Happy Holidays" has been the subject of some controversy in the United States. Advocates claim that "Happy Holidays" is an inclusive greeting that is not intended as an attack on Christianity or other religions, but is rather a response to what they say is the reality of a growing non-Christian population.

Critics of "Happy Holidays" generally claim it is a secular neologism. The greeting may be deemed materialistic, consumerist, atheistic, indifferentist, agnostic, politically correct, and/or anti-Christian. Critics of the phrase have associated it with a larger cultural clash termed the "War on Christmas."[55] However, some Christians, concerned that the 20th century conflation of St. Nicholas Day (December 6), Christmas (December 25), and Epiphany (January 6) has subsumed the meaning of Christmas itself, have taken to using "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" throughout the season, reserving "Merry Christmas" for December 25.

Season's Greetings

For other meanings of "Season's Greetings", see Season's Greetings (disambiguation).

"Season's Greetings" is a greeting more commonly used as a motto on winter season greeting cards, and in commercial advertisements, than as a spoken phrase. In addition to "Merry Christmas", Victorian Christmas cards bore a variety of salutations, including "Compliments of the Season" and "Christmas Greetings." By the late 19th century, "With the Season's Greetings" or simply "The Season's Greetings" began appearing. By the 1920s it had been shortened to "Season's Greetings,"[56] and has been a greeting card fixture ever since. Several White House Christmas cards, including U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1955 card, have featured the phrase.[57]

Medical analyses

Various studies have been performed on the effects of the Christmas and holiday season, which encompasses several feast days, on health. They have concluded that the health changes that occur during the Christmas and holiday season are not reversed during the rest of the year and have a long-term cumulative effect over a person's life, and that the risks of several medical problems increase during the Christmas and holiday season.

Nutrition

Yanovski et al.[6] investigated the assertion that the average American gains weight over the season. They found that average weight gain over the Christmas and holiday season is around 0.48 kg (1 lb). They also found that this weight gain is not reversed over the rest of the year, and concluded that this "probably contributes to the increase in body weight that frequently occurs during adulthood" (cf Lent).

Chan et al.[20] investigated the increases in A1C and fasting plasma glucose in type 2 diabetic patients, to see whether these increases were steady throughout the year or varied seasonally. They concluded that the winter holidays did influence the glycemic control of the patients, with the largest increases being during that period, increases that "might not be reversed during the summer and autumn months".

The Christmas and holiday season, according to a survey by the ADA, is the second most popular reason, after birthdays, for sharing food in the workplace. The British Columbia Safety Council states that if proper food safety procedures are not followed, food set out for sharing in the workplace can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria, and recommends that perishable foods (for which it gives pizza, cold cuts, dips, salads, and sandwiches as examples) should not sit out for more than 2 hours.[58]

Other issues

A survey conducted in 2005 found shopping caused headaches in nearly a quarter of people and sleeplessness in 11 percent.[27]

Phillips et al.[59] investigated whether some or all of the spike in cardiac mortality that occurs during December and January could be ascribed to the Christmas/New Year’s holidays rather than to climatic factors. They concluded that the Christmas and holiday season is "a risk factor for cardiac and noncardiac mortality", stating that there are "multiple explanations for this association, including the possibility that holiday-induced delays in seeking treatment play a role in producing the twin holiday spikes".

The Asthma Society of Canada[60] states that the Christmas and holiday season increases exposure to irritants because people spend 90% of their time indoors, and that seasonal decorations in the home introduce additional, further, irritants beyond the ones that exist all year around. It recommends that asthmatics avoid scented candles, for example, recommending either that candles not be lit or that soy or beeswax candles be employed.

Other effects

According to the Stanford Recycling Center[61] Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Christmas and holiday season than at other times of the year.

Because of the cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere, the Christmas and holiday season (as well as the second half of winter) is a time of increased use of fuel for domestic heating. This has prompted concerns in the United Kingdom about the possibility of a shortage in the domestic gas supply. However, in the event of an exceptionally long cold season, it is industrial users, signed on to interruptible supply contracts, who would find themselves without gas supply.[62]

The U.S. Fire Administration[19] states that the Christmas and holiday season is "a time of elevated risk for winter heating fires" and that the fact that many people celebrate the different holidays during the Christmas and holiday season by decorating their homes with seasonal garlands, electric lights, candles, and banners, has the potential to change the profile of fire incidence and cause. The Government of Alberta Ministry of Municipal Affairs[63] states that candle-related fires rise by 140% during the Christmas and holiday season, with most fires involving human error and most deaths and injuries resulting from the failure to extinguish candles before going to bed. It states that consumers don't expect candle holders to tip over or to catch fire, assuming that they are safe, but that in fact candle holders can do this.

Because of increased alcohol consumption at festivities and poorer road conditions during the winter months, alcohol-related road traffic accidents increase over the Christmas and holiday season.[64]

Blood banks in the United States also need more donations during the holiday season because donations tend to decrease.[65]

Legal issues

United States

Main articles: County of Allegheny v. ACLU and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment#Religious displays

In the United States, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States has had significant legal impact upon the activities of governments and of state-funded public schools during and relating to the Christmas and holiday season, and has been the source of controversy.

Public schools are subject to what the Anti-Defamation League terms the "December Dilemma",[66] namely the task of "acknowledging the various religious and secular holiday traditions celebrated during that time of year" whilst restricting observances of the various religious festivals to what is constitutionally permissible. The ADL and many school district authorities have published guidelines for schools and for teachers.[67] For example: The directive on maintaining religious neutrality in public schools over the Christmas and holiday season, given to public school administrators in the District of Columbia by the Superintendent,[68] contains several points on what may and may not be taught in the D.C. school district, the themes of parties and concerts, the uses of religious symbols, the locations of school events and classes, and prayer.

Russia

In Moscow in 2002, for the Christmas and holiday season, mayor Yuriy Luzhkov ordered all stores, restaurants, cafés, and markets to display decorations and lights in their windows and interiors from December 1 onwards, and banks, post offices, and public institutions to do the same from December 15 onwards, with violators liable for fines of up to 200 rubles. Every business was ordered to have illuminated windows from 16:30 until 01:00. This caused a mixed reaction, with people objecting to being forced to put up decorations.[69]

See also

References

Further reading

  • — The FTC's advice to consumers who are shopping during the holiday season
  • — Einav describes the Christmas and holiday season as one of the two periods of the year (the other being the beginning of Summer, Memorial Day to Labor Day) where "movie makers [...] tend to release their biggest hits".

External links

  • - An hour-long public radio program exploring the roots of American beliefs and rituals surrounding the winter holidays
  • — A series of lesson plans for teaching children about the winter holidays.

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