Christmas and holiday season

Christmas and holiday season
Christmas and holiday season
Christmas and holiday season
Christmas tree in Japan
Also called Christmas season
The holidays
The summer holidays
Type Varied
Significance Observance of multiple religious and non-religious holidays.
Date Approximately late November to early January
Observances Gift giving, family meetings, religious services, parties, other holiday-specific traditions
Related to Christmas Day (Eve), New Year's Day (Eve), Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Yule, Epiphany, winter solstice, Kwanzaa, Hallowe'en (debatable), other

The Christmas season,[1][2] the holiday season,[3][4] or simply the holidays is an annual festive period that surrounds Christmas and various other holidays. It is generally considered to run from late November to early January.[5][6] Its relation to Christmas in official use by schools and governments has resulted in controversy in the western countries. It incorporates a period of shopping which comprises a peak season for the retail sector (the "Christmas shopping season"), and a period of sales at the end of the season (the "January sales").


Time of the Season

Christian Tradition

The exact definition, name, and celebratory method of the period varies from culture to culture. According to Christian tradition, the Christmas Season extends for a period of time after the celebration of Christmas Day and is preceded by an anticipatory period called advent. Most western Christians, including Catholics, Anglicans, and most Protestants celebrate the Christmas season from Christmas Day (December 25) or from sunset on Christmas Eve (December 24) until Epiphany (January 6).[7] Liturgically, the Catholic Church extends the season of Christmas until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the first Sunday after Epiphany. Eastern Christians who follow the Julian calendar, including some Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholics follow the same dates, but December 25 on the Julian calendar now appears as January 7 on the Gregorian calendar.

The period of preparation and hopeful waiting is called Advent. In the western traditions, this begins on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew the Protoclete ("the first called"). This marks the beginning of the church year. Eastern Orthodox churches observe the Nativity Fast from September 1 through December 24 and the holiday season lasts through January 7.

Secular traditions

According to Yanovski et al.,[5] in the United States the holiday season "is generally considered to begin with Thanksgiving and end after New Year's Day". According to Axelrad,[6] 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[8] defines the "Winter Holiday Season" as the period from December 1 to January 7. According to Chen et al.,[9] 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.[10][11]

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 and Black Friday.[12] 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. Similarly, Valentine's Day and Easter products are available in many shops even before Christmas.


Christmas shopping

Several of the religious festivals during the Christmas and holiday season are celebrated with the exchanges of gifts, and the Christmas and holiday season thus also incorporates the "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.[13][14] 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.[15]

Many people find this time particularly stressful.[16] As a remedy, and as a return to what they perceive as the root of Christmas, some practice alternative giving.

The Christmas shopping season usually ends on Christmas Eve, with decorations taken down on December 26th, and preparations for the Boxing Day sales start.

USA and Canada

In the United States, the Christmas/holiday shopping season, during which a quarter of all personal spending takes place,[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

Public, secular celebration in seasonal costume

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.[20]

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. Four of the largest 11 on-line shopping days in 2005 were December 11 to December 16, with an increase of 12% over 2004 figures.[21] 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".[15]

In 2006, the average US household is expected to spend about $1,700 on Christmas and holiday spendings.[22] Retail strategists such as ICSC Research[23] 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.

A Christmas tree inside a home.

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".[24]

According to the Deloitte 2007 Holiday Survey,[25] 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.


In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the Christmas shopping season starts from mid November, around the time when high street Christmas lights are turned on.[10][11] 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.[11] 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.[26]

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.[27][28]

In Italy, the January sales begin on the first weekend in January, and last for at least six weeks.[27]

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.[29][30] Since a legislative reform to the corresponding law in 2004,[31] 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, the Mellandagsrea (between days sell off) begins on December 26 and lasts during the rest of the Christmas holiday. It is similar to Black Friday, buts lasts longer. They last 34-35 days

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.


Yanovski et al.[5] 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.[9] 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.[32]

Other issues

A survey conducted in 2005 found shopping caused headaches in nearly a quarter of people and sleeplessness in 11 percent.[16]

Phillips et al.[33] 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 climactic 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[34] 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[35] 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.[36]

The U.S. Fire Administration[8] 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[37] 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.[38]

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 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",[39] 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.[40] 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,[41] 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.


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.[42]


See also


  1. ^ Goff, Kristin. "Ottawa shoppers to drop $3.2 B this Christmas season". The Ottawa Citizen. "Ottawa shoppers are in the mood to spend this holiday season and could drop as much as $3.2 billion in retailers' tills, a new survey has found." 
  2. ^ Harding, James (2006-12-06). "Real wonder of Woolies is that it still has a place on the high street". The Times (London).,,8210-2489216,00.html. "John Lewis, too, has reported a fantastic start to the Christmas season, with sales up nearly 6 per cent on a year ago." 
  3. ^ Wal-Mart sounds ominous note for holiday seasonUSA Today. November 25, 2006. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  4. ^ Web retail a bright spot in tepid U.S. holiday seasonReuters India. December 2, 2009. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O'Neil PM, Sebring NG. (2000-03-23). "A prospective study of holiday weight gain". Nwe England Journal of Medicine 342 (12): 861–867. doi:10.1056/NEJM200003233421206. PMID 10727591. 
  6. ^ a b Allan M. Axelrad (July 2005). "Christmas in Cooperstown and Templeton: The Coopers and the Invention of an American Holiday Tradition". In Hugh C. MacDougall. 14th Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 2003. pp. 7–18. 
  7. ^ "Vatican Advent Liturgy". 
  8. ^ a b (PDF) The Seasonal Nature of Fires. U.S. Fire Administration. January 2005. p. 15. 
  9. ^ a b Harn-Shen Chen, Tjin-Shing Jap, Ru-Lin Chen, and Hong-Da Lin (February 2004). "A Prospective Study of Glycemic Control During Holiday Time in Type 2 Diabetic Patients". Diabetes Care 27 (2): 326–330. doi:10.2337/diacare.27.2.326. PMID 14747208. 
  10. ^ a b South Molton and Brook Street Christmas Lights (Tuesday 16th November 2010) View
  11. ^ a b c Julia Kollewe Monday (29 November 2010) West End spree worth £250m marks start of Christmas shopping season The Guardian
  12. ^ Heather Conrad and Deforest Walker (2001-10-01). Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World. Lightport Books. ISBN 0-9712425-1-8. 
  13. ^ Mike Duff (2003-10-27). "Consensus: momentum bodes well for 4Q - Retail sales growth, which began to stir in spring, will continue gaining through beginning of next year". DSN Retailing Today. 
  14. ^ Lorrie Grant (2006-02-02). "Retailers celebrate "strong" January sales gain of 5.1%". USA Today. 
  15. ^ a b Mickey Alam Khan (2005-11-10). "Atlas: Online Retailers Will Like Mondays During Holidays". DM News (Courtenay Communications Corporation). 
  16. ^ a b Simon Crompton (2005-12-10). "Ills in the aisles". The Times (London).,,175-1916654,00.html. 
  17. ^ Gwen Outen (2004-12-03). "ECONOMICS REPORT - Holiday Shopping Season in the U.S.". Voice Of America. 
  18. ^ "Consumers Skip Thanksgiving Leftovers and Kick-Off Holiday Shopping with Strong Spending on Black Friday". Press releases (San Francisco: VISA U.S.A.). 2004-11-27. 
  19. ^ "Consumers Tighten Their Purse Strings This Holiday Season - Fuel Costs Putting a Damper on Shopping Plans". Mirror Geek. 
  20. ^ "report" (Microsoft Word). U.S. Commercial Service in Canada.$file/X_1970281.DOC. [dead link]
  21. ^ "Holiday Sales Tune-up: Simple, effective tactics to increase seasonal sales" (PDF). MarketLive, Inc.. 2006-10-24. Archived from the original on 2011-07-13.  — This in turn cites the 2006 Holiday Best Practices Report by
  22. ^ "Let the shopping begin". The Economist. 2006-11-24. 
  23. ^ "2005 U.S. Holiday Spending Outlook" (PDF). ICSC Research. Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce. 2005-10-18. p. 3. Archived from the original on 2008-02-27. 
  24. ^ Dave Goll (2006-11-17). "Extended holiday shopping season bodes well". East Bay Business Times.^1378052. 
  25. ^ "Press Release:Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus; Gift Buying is Expected to Hold Steady, Although Consumers Will Spend Less Overall". Deloitte. 2007-11-01.,1014,cid%253D177262,00.html?wt.mc_id=w. [dead link]
  26. ^ Zoe Wood (Tuesday 21 December 2010) Snow chaos raises fears for Christmas dinners minus the trimmings The Guardian
  27. ^ a b Sugden, Joanna; Fresco, Adam (2005-12-04). "An international guide to the January sales". The Sunday Times Online (London).,,10290-1900656_2,00.html. 
  28. ^ "French store sales rise in January". Food and Drink Europe (Decision News Media SAS). 2003-02-07. 
  29. ^ "Fulbright Primer" (PDF). Fulbright Commission in Berlin. 2002-03-20. p. 44. Archived from the original on 2006-08-31. 
  30. ^ Paul Joyce (2005). "Going Shopping". Exeter University Beginners' German. University of Exeter. 
  31. ^ "Unfair Competition Act (German)". 
  32. ^ "Safety First" (PDF). British Columbia Safety Council. Spring 2006. Archived from the original on 2008-02-27. 
  33. ^ David P. Phillips, Jason R. Jarvinen, Ian S. Abramson, and Rosalie R. Phillips (2004-09-10). "Cardiac Mortality Is Higher Around Christmas and New Year’s Than at Any Other Time" (PDF). Circulation 110 (25): 3781–3788. doi:10.1161/01.CIR.0000151424.02045.F7. PMID 15596560. 
  34. ^ Michael Gallinger (2005-11-28). "Christmas and holiday season Tips" (PDF). Asthma Society of Canada. 
  35. ^ "Tips for a "Green" Holiday Season". Stanford Recycling Center. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. 
  36. ^ Peter Klinger (2005-12-29). "Thousands shiver as gas boiler failures double". The Times (London).,,9558-1961817,00.html. 
  37. ^ "Candle Saafety Tips" (PDF). Government of Alberta Ministry of Municipal Affairs. 2003-04-08. Archived from the original on 2008-02-27. 
  38. ^ Kelly Grinsteinner (2005-11-28). "Controlled drinking experiment teaches valuable lesson". The Daily Tribune. Archived from the original on 2008-02-23. 
  39. ^ Abraham H. Foxman. "The "December Dilemma": December Holiday Guidelines for Public Schools". Religion In America’s Public Square: Crossing the Line?. Anti-Defamation League. 
  40. ^ "Religion in the Public Schools: Teaching About Religious Holidays". Anti-Defamation League. 
  41. ^ Paul L. Vance (2001-12-14) (PDF). Religious Neutrality Requirements. Archived from the original on 2008-02-27. 
  42. ^ Oksana Yablokova and Kevin O'Flynn (2002-11-29). "Moscow To Pay a Price for Not Celebrating". The St. Petersburg Times. 

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