Seems like every year around this time, I hear folks complaining that corporate America is decorating for Christmas way too early. Gone are the days when Christmas was reserved for December - now we're lucky to make it through Halloween without seeing wreaths and Christmas trees everywhere. But is any of it true? Are stores really decorating earlier than they used to? I decided to 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.
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 41 out of 83 years - not too shabby, and plenty of data for some basic statistics.
So, is the tree being set up earlier each year? You betcha!
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, by the noughties, the tree was going up in early November. The year 2015 was the earliest yet, with the tree being dropped into its stand on November 6. All told, the installation date for the tree has moved back over a full month, and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
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.