While channel surfing a few weeks ago, I noticed the first Christmas and holiday ads of the season. Those were just the first I saw. There might have been others.
"Jingle Bells" playing in the background. Zero interest for qualified buyers. A 36-month, closed-end lease with $2,449 due at signing. Jewelry. The latest generation of Norelco electric shavers.
This barrage began shortly after, or perhaps even during, the Giants' sweep of the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. You know the annual Fall Classic.
Doesn't it seem that holiday advertising and Christmas sales creep up earlier and earlier each year?
Some retailers tell me they have. Others say no, that holiday shopping blitzes have spilled into October for the past decade or more.
Maybe this one is more noticeable because it overlapped with the campaign propaganda we were getting until Election Day finally ended. (Yesirree, nothing gets you into the holiday spirit like a fib-filled hit piece funded by anonymous zillionaires.)
The holiday shopping season, as we all know, begins on Black Friday. That's the day after Thanksgiving, the fourth Tuesday in November, right?
Sorry, that is so, like, 1990. Besides, the traditional Black Friday has been replaced at many stores by Black Thursday, on Thanksgiving Day itself.
Try the unofficial but more realistic of the Black Fridays the first one after Halloween. By that time this year, most major retailers were in Christmas mode, and the holiday shopping season was well under way. Not that I'm complaining. Local advertisers began placing ads in The Modesto Bee earlier than in previous years, I'm told. I like to eat, too.
The key to any Black Friday or Black Thursday is being in the black meaning profitable at year's end. In this economy, the longer holiday shopping season gives retailers more time to make money, which is how they stay in business. Christmas shopping typically accounts for more than 40 percent of a retailer's annual sales.
"Everybody's been in a slump," said Donna Temple, Christmas buyer-manager at Keller's in McHenry Village in Modesto. "You hope in the fourth quarter that it gives you the bump you need."
There are other factors at work here. Setting up the elaborate Christmas shops and displays requires people who are paid to do the work. The Christmas displays need to be open long enough to make a profit. So they start early.
Keller's traditionally opens its Christmas shop on Sept. 15, not long after Labor Day.
Employees at Morris Nursery in Riverbank closed a room in late September and began transforming it into the Christmas Magic shop to open the last week of October.
"It takes us about four weeks to decorate," Morris' Dave Provost said. "We do it with just our regular crew. It isn't a huge moneymaker, but it enables us to keep people working through what otherwise would be a slow time (on the nursery side)."
Last year, they tried opening Oct. 10, hoping to capitalize on some of the folks in town for the Riverbank Wine & Cheese festival.
"It didn't work out," Provost said. They returned to the late- October opening this year.
While many of the bigger retailers began rolling out their stuff weeks ago, Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto actually held off its annual Santa party by a week. Normally the first Friday of November, the mall waited an extra week before debuting the jolly old elf for the season on Nov. 9.
"(Nov. 2) was too early," the mall's Janice Curtin said. " It seems like the (season) begins earlier, but we've always been in early November. There's really nice weather until the end of October. Christmas is associated with sweaters and scarves and boots. People have to shift their thinking."
Lost only if you allow it to be, this is the reason for Christmas: the birth of Christ.
"It's difficult when you're getting bombarded at home by advertising in the newspaper and on TV to keep it spiritual," Morris Nursery's Provost said.
Many folks, whether intentionally or subliminally, have learned to separate the two. They know the reason and worship accordingly. They also go Christmas shopping, feeding an economy that needs all the help it can get.
Black Friday in October and Black Thursday in November are highly preferable to the emptiness communities experience when their businesses go into the red.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.