Sin City, where clocks and calendars barely exist and tomorrow is a nebulous concept at best, had already seen the curtain of Christmastide open for another season.
Las Vegas is far from alone; it's been quarter-till Christmas across the country since mid-November, including here in Southern California, where tree lightings and Santa sightings got underway as early as Veterans Day — with the unveiling of the Beverly Center's Narnian ice palace set piece, followed by South Coast Plaza and the Americana at Brand (both on Nov. 18), Fashion Island (Nov. 19) and the Grove (Nov. 21).
But in the race to ramp up the reindeer and ribbons, there was one notable exception.
Posted at the entrance of the Nordstrom department store at the Fashion Show mall (as well as the other 203 Nordstroms across the country) the weekend before Thanksgiving was a large, rectangular sign decorated with three songbirds pecking around in the snow (two of them wearing striped scarves). It contained the following message:
"From our family to yours, HAPPY THANKSGIVING. We like celebrating one holiday at a time, so you won't find our halls decked until Friday, November 26. Join us then, when we open our doors to a festive new season. We will be closed Thanksgiving Day."
Just past the sign, on the brightly lighted sales floor, Nordstrom employees could be seen bustling about — perfume testers spritzing away, stock wranglers folding shirts with gusto — but nary a tinsel strand, pointed elf cap or Brobdingnagian bow could be seen. For a brief moment it was like looking out from the curved confines of a swirling snow globe of merry mayhem into a pre-Christmas oasis of quietude.
Drawing a line in the seasonal sand is nothing new for the Seattle-based department store chain — the policy has been around as long as anyone in the Nordstrom family can remember. But in a year when the holiday shopping season has camped out on the doorstep of Thanksgiving dinner (locally, Toys R Us stores and the Citadel Outlets were scheduled to open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day — hardly enough time for the gravy to congeal and the bickering to begin), the symbolic gesture of holding off on the holly is more noticeable than ever.
"I've been here since the mid-'70s, and I can't remember a time when it wasn't in place," said Erik Nordstrom, an executive vice president and president of stores for Nordstrom Inc. "We've always done it, though it probably didn't stand out as much years and years ago."
Nordstrom points out that it's not as if the chain is holding off on selling holiday merchandise. "We sell holiday merchandise whenever there's a demand for it," he said. "But we don't think we need to put up the Christmas trees to do that."
The retailer is hardly alone in advocating a one-at-a-time approach to the holidays, the scourge of "Christmas creep" has been decried everywhere from Peanuts circa 1974 (in an Easter special, the gang finds a mall sign noting that Christmas is only 246 days away) to the Internet circa 2010 ( Facebook, for example, has two pages with the title "No Christmas Before Thanksgiving!" — which differ only in their dedication to capitalization and use of exclamation points.)
Good luck to them. At the current rate of advance, by the end of the decade we're likely to see Christmas bows going up right after the Fourth of July bunting comes down.
But Nordstrom offered a rationale that might hold the key: "There's a rhythm to the season, with the energy starting at Thanksgiving and building up to the week before Christmas," he said. "By starting earlier, you tend to run out of steam. So for us, it's a way to get focused on the task at hand and to build the right energy going into the holidays."
And, in this era of eco-consciousness, casting the delayed decking of the halls as a kind of human capital energy-saving measure makes a lot of sense.
A "green" Christmas, anyone?