Dear Economist – Are early Christmas decorations efficient?

16th December, 2013

Dear Economist,
The Christmas decorations seem to go up earlier and earlier every year. It infuriates me, but do you think this is efficient?
Yours sincerely,
Toby Kerrell, Birmingham
Dear Toby,
I’m a bit of a traditionalist myself: I think decorations should go up a few days before Christmas (some say on the last Sunday of Advent, others say on Christmas Eve) and then stay up for the full 12 days.
To me, this means that Christmas starts with a bang and then lingers briefly but pleasantly, rather than being a long slog to an inevitable anticlimax, whereupon the tree is thrown out on Boxing Day.
If Christmas was a private affair, more like a birthday, that would be easy to arrange. The party balloons would be blown up exactly when I wanted them. I have not subjected my hypothesis to an econometric test, but casual empiricism suggests that when people do put up birthday decorations, they tend to linger for a few days at most and, importantly, go up on the day itself, not in advance. I suspect that this is the efficient strategy for putting up party paraphernalia.
Alas, because it is a collective celebration, Christmas is one big market failure. The worst culprits are the shops, who obviously wish to generate a festive mood before Christmas Day, not afterwards, so that they can sell things.
Consumer power is all very well, but the garish displays affect passers-by as well as customers. Whatever collective disgust we have for the sound of Bing Crosby in October, it is clearly not enough to dissuade them.

First published, FT Magazine Dec 1 2006

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