Stress level rises as Christmas creep gets earlier

It is only a week since the school summer holidays ended, and a month-and-a-half before Halloween, so it was perhaps not surprising that a whiff of Dickensian humbug hung in the air yesterday as Yorkshire's most prosperous city unveiled its Christmas list.

The German Christmas Market in Leeds
The German Christmas Market in Leeds

The tourism agency Visit York said its seasonal programme this year would be its longest ever and would begin on November 15, with the switching-on of Christmas tree lights in St Helen’s Square.

York was voted Britain’s Most Festive City last year by the now defunct Virgin East Coast train franchise, following what it said was an analysis of tweets.

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But joy at the so-called Christmas Creep was far from unconfined yesterday, with an academic warning about stress levels rising along with expectations, and the leader of Ukip going so far as to suggest an outright ban on early marketing.

Gerard Batten, who is also the party’s MEP for London, tweeted from inside Tesco, which, he said, was filled with “Christmas stuff, chocolate Father Christmases and all”.

“What does four months of this do to a child’s perception of Christmas before the big day? There should be law against it,” Mr Batten wrote.

Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons customers have also tweeted pictures of shelves full of mince pies, despite their sell-by dates being weeks before Christmas.

Retailers say the early stocking of Christmas supplies in September is in response to demand from customers.

A Sainsbury’s spokesman said: “We start to stock some festive products in advance of the main Christmas period as some customers like to be more organised and help spread the cost.”

But Prof Barry Tolchard, a psychotherapist who teaches at Huddersfield University, suggested that for some shoppers the reverse may be true.

“The attempt to try to get more out of people across the whole year seems to just add more and more pressure,” he said.

“In America, Halloween, Thanksgiving and then Christmas all come together and we seem to be going down the same route in this country, with Halloween in particular blending into Christmas.

“But the schools have only just gone back and there may be college fees to pay, so the worry of Christmas expenses at the same time creates a lot of extra stress.”

Prof Tolchard, who also pointed to an increase in drinking and gambling in the run-up to Christmas, added: “Presents are getting more expensive and there’s more demand for them earlier than ever. The pressure on families and especially parents is really high.”

Some 8.6m Britons have already started their festive shopping, a survey by American Express found.

Nearly half of people had begun early in the hope of picking up presents in the sales, and year-on-year data shows the trend increasing.

In the last two years, an extra 1.1m people are said to have started buying while the countdown to Christmas was still in three figures.

Eleanor Gregory, a buyer at Selfridges, which opened its Christmas shop 145 days before December 25, said: “Our summer launch simply addresses the growing demand for convenience Christmas shopping outside the traditional Christmas season.”