Monday, December 19, 2011

The Changing Christmas Tradition

It's possible this house has an artificial tree because a
live one is "too much of a hassle."
Have you noticed that nothing really stays the same?  Even tradition.  

Christmas Trees.  40% of U.S. households purchased live Christmas trees in 1991 and only 23% last year.  Baby  boomers stop buying live trees as they get older.  The latch-key generation never had a live tree.  Artificial trees from China have grown in quality and skyrocketed in demand.  In 2011, consumers will spend $1 billion on artificial trees and $984 million on real trees.  That's called a "tipping point."

Lights.  Does it seem to you that more and more houses are displaying more and more lights?  And, we've moved out of our white icicle obsession and are now seeing colors again?  Big inflatable snowmen?  Giant electronic candycanes?  Is it the impact of Youtube?  Trans-Siberian Orchestra?  Does it seem strange that we no longer want the hassle of a live tree but will crawl around in our bushes for a week after Thanksgiving stringing lights?

What if I'd told you in 1980 to "invest in companies making cheap plastic lights because every family in America will purchase one for every single window in the their home by 2011."  Would you have believed me?

On-line Shopping.  My wife returned from a shopping excursion recently and said it was busy, but not as crazy as it's been in past years.  The retail numbers this season--projected up almost 5%--are excellent.  My conclusion: We are, for the first time, seeing a visual impact from on-line shopping.  Perhaps the information highway will one day make the mall safe again. 

Traditional Delivery.  If somebody is winning besides Amazon, it would have to be FedEx, UPS, and maybe even the US Postal Service--which will still lose more than $5 billion this year.  As on-line shopping continues to grow, I wonder if the Post Office will begin to look like every other retailer: 40% of its revenue and all of its profit will be made in the six weeks before Christmas?  A thought: Stop raising the price of a first class stamp when we all have email, and dominate the last mile with cheap delivery of my holiday boxes. 

Outsourcing.  Fifteen years ago we ran out of an electronic component because of Chinese New Year and it caught everyone off-guard.  Now, companies have to plan their Q1 inventories around this Chinese holiday.

Cards.  I can't tell what's going on yet.  We're definitely getting and receiving less, but we're still receiving from folks we keep in touch with via Facebook--the very folks I thought we'd lose first.  On the other hand, we're getting more and more mechanized cards, untouched by human hand.  Which is, I suppose, like a Facebook posting.

Like I said, I can't yet divine the trend except that the Post Office is losing, and so is Hallmark.  

Christmas Music.  Rock artists think that re-recording The Little Drummer Boy is a good thing.  It isn't.  Mel Torme made enough money from The Christmas Song ("chestnuts roasting. . .") that he could have retired on that single song.  "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Winter Wonderland" are both vintage 1934.  "White Christmas" was 1942 and for the next decade, songwriters invented the modern Christmas canon: "I'll Be Home" (1943), "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (1944), "Let It Snow" etc." (1945), "The Christmas Song" (1946), "Here Comes Santa Claus" (1947), "Sleigh Ride" and "Blue Christmas" (1948) and "Rudolph" (1949).  The 1950s were fertile as well, from "Frosty" to "Silver Bells" to "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" to "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."  Then, things went sideways.  Vince Guaraldi was a bright light in the Dark Ages, but the ages stayed pretty dark with the melancholy "Do They Know It's Christmas" (1984).  Lately, we've had to rely on Mariah Carey.

I saw a chart the other day (pasted above) showing that most of the 20 most-played Christmas songs were all written in the 1940s and 1950s, proof that the Baby Boomers were trying to recreate their childhoods every year.  I say: Write something worth listening to and we'll beat a path to your download!

Sports.  And Christmas.  Christmas and Sports.  Football on Christmas Eve. Basketball on Christmas Day.  How did THAT happen, anyway?  And don't even get me started on the bowl games.

On the other hand, if we were really hung-up on a traditional American Christmas, we'd be roaming the town getting roaring drunk and harassing the rich neighbors, as I wrote about here in 2008.  Maybe Mariah Carey, cheap candles and an artificial tree or two aren't so bad after all.

Merry Christmas!