Step into Myers of Keswick, a traditional British grocery store located in the heart of New York’s West Village, and you will get smacked in the face with holiday cheer. Though only four people are allowed inside of the store at a time, per COVID rules, there has been a steady stream of expats buying their Christmas mince pies and Christmas puddings, chocolate assortments, and festive biscuit tins since the shipment came in mid-October.
“We’re very busy,” Jennifer Myers, the daughter of the store’s original owner, said on the phone while speaking over the bustle of shoppers. “I find that it’s because a lot of Brits are not going back for the holidays this year. Because this year has been so shitty, pardon my French, they’re bringing more gifts to their home celebrations.”
As families make the gut-wrenching decision to cancel holiday gatherings, coronavirus cases are surging, and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree looks anemic and deflated, there is not a whole lot to celebrate this season. But look on social media, or through the windows of your neighbors’ place that is already dotted with tinsel and pine, and you will see: people still want some cheer, damn it.
“I’m feeling Christmassy already. Is that ok?” the singer Sam Smith tweeted on Wednesday. (The answer, per his replies: hell yes.) Mariah Carey’s classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which has rightfully earned the singer over $60 million in royalties since its 1994 release, surged in streams on Nov. 1. The head of a New Jersey Christmas decor company told NBC New York he is already “working six days a week” setting up lights for businesses and homeowners.
The holiday decor is already out at Lowe’s, a spokesperson for the chain said, though the timing is “consistent with other years.” On Nov. 5, Target dropped 6,000 new seasonal trinkets, from a pink ceramic tree to mini gnomes. Home Depot and Best Buy started their Black Friday sales early, partly to quell long lines on the actual day, but also to give shoppers a little pandemic pick-me-up.
According to a survey from YouGov, 69 percent of the 2,748 adults polled reported waiting until after Thanksgiving to get festive in their homes; only 27 percent put up decorations before the November holiday. But celebrities like Tan France, Kelly Clarkson, and yes, Mariah Carey herself, have all admitted on Instagram to putting their trees up.
“When life feels uncertain, it can help to focus on what is in our control,” Liz Kelly, LICSW, a D.C.-based licensed clinical social worker who also works with the Talkspace app. “We may not be able to control the spread of the coronavirus or travel to see loved ones, but we can put up holiday decorations, bake our favorite treats, and light our favorite seasonal candles.”
Putting up decorations “brings a sense of novelty and fun to everyday life,” Kelly added, which is no small feat in a world where every day is the same, and a pitch black nighttime falls at 4:30 pm. “Many things we do during the holidays get us in touch with our senses. Our senses can be powerful triggers of memories. By celebrating the holiday season, we can savor positive memories from years past.”
Tennessee state Senator Raumesh Akbari said she usually “aggressively campaigns” against pre-Thanksgiving decorations. Last year she traveled during December and forgot to put up a tree. But this year is different—she has not one, but three trees lining the window of a house she shares with her twin sister and two dogs, Dr. Dre and Sasha Fierce Obama.
“Who would have imagined we’d be in a global pandemic and not be around our friends and family? We’ve got to go full force, Christmas wonderland,” she said. “We have a wall of trees, red and green lights, garlands, and we’re thinking about putting up snow. We’re starting so early that by Christmas it might look like an enchanted village in my house.”
Senator Akbari recommends getting into the spirit “wholeheartedly.” The more lights the better. “It puts you in a different mindset,” she said. “It makes us more appreciative of what we have. Who’s going to be mad at you for putting up your trees early or listening to Christmas music?”
On top of an “already crazy and stressful reality of existing during a global pandemic,” Kayt, a 31-year-old from Tennessee, had her first child in May. Her family could not come along to be with her while she labored for 17 hours, wearing a face mask the entire time. So when it came time for a seasonal pick-me-up, Kayt and her husband lugged their decorations down from the attic.
“We spent the afternoon listening to holiday classics on Spotify while laughing and dancing,” Kayt, who did not give her last name, said. “We wanted to make sure our child was there for the tree, and we were able to surprise them with the lights last night. Let me tell you, there is nothing more magical than seeing Christmas lights reflecting in the eyes of a child. Seeing that sense of wonder and pure joy was the best part for me.”
So consider this permission to bust out the Christmas tree or pour a glass of eggnog. Or not! Early Christmas adopters say this is the rare decision in 2020 that can be fully theirs.
“Honestly, if someone wants to celebrate Halloween for the rest of the year because it makes them happy, let them,” Kayt said. “If someone wants to skip holidays all together, let them. I’m all for anything that can bring someone a small glimmer of joy this year.”