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Published: Wednesday, 11/23/2005

Christmas creep

ON THE 63rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it as the traditional holiday song in which there are only 12 days of Christmas. But in difficult economic times, and with cutthroat competition, 12 days aren't nearly enough.

Toledoans already know this. They have seen the signs of the holidays for several weeks in some stores. The busiest shopping day of the year may still be this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but the first shopping day of Christmas seems to move ever further back into the fall.

Traditionalists bemoan it, but the trend has been going this way for years, and it seems to be unstoppable.

As reported in The Blade's Business pages, it was 66, sunny, and Santa at Westfield Franklin Park, where Mr. Claus arrived a week earlier than last year in order to coincide with a charity fund-raiser. And that wasn't out of line with the national picture.

Large retailers, including Wal-Mart and Toys R Us, had already begun to push merchandise for the holidays. The reason is simple economics.

Projections by the National Retail Federation suggest a 5 percent growth in holiday sales this year compared with 6.7 percent last year. So retailers are looking to a longer shopping season to entice consumers to their aisles.

While online sales are expected to show healthy growth this season, the rate of that growth is slowing, too. Online retailers also are feeling the pinch. And pressing hard for the holiday dollar, they are taking a different tack, with one survey suggesting that as many as three quarters of them, including big names like L.L. Bean, will be offering free shipping - an incentive a majority of shoppers say is more important to them than in the past.

It's not news that some consumers are put off by Christmas creep, as the sales season moves ever further back into the autumn. And a few folks in retail are resisting some aspects of the trend. At the Town Center at Levis Commons, Santa won't be arriving until next month, although holiday merchandise is already in stores there.

But don't expect the lengthening of the shopping season to change any time soon. With retail sales accounting for two-thirds of the economy, what's good for Christmas is good for the country.

And it's not as though we are going to get to the point where "tis the season" begins as soon as we get home from watching a Labor Day parade.

Is it?

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