Christmas comes but once a year, starting in July

The opening of the Selfridges Christmas shop last week. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

“Any customers that aren’t really into Christmas this early can always ignore it,” said Eleanor Gregory, Christmas and home buyer at Selfridges, about the opening of its Christmas store last week. Am I wrong to project a slight tartness on to that remark? As if the first draft of “can always ignore it” had been “know where they can stick it”?

I probably am wrong. Eleanor seemed fairly upbeat in her other comments: “This new extension to our usual offer is addressing this growing demand for convenience – domestic customers who love to Christmas shop very early in the year to get it wrapped and taken off their to-do list.”

At least, I think that was also her. The Guardian says it was, but the Telegraphattributes the phrase to a “Selfridges spokesperson” as part of a long speech that also includes this sentence – “We’ve been opening the doors to our Christmas shop during the summer for years now and have become a real destination for fans of Christmas and festive decorations”, which both the Times and the Independent claim was spoken by Geraldine James. Not the actress, but the “Christmas home and decorations buyer at Selfridges”.

So the whole thing is a bit of a mystery. Are Eleanor Gregory and Geraldine James the same person? Or deadly rivals? Why are both of their surnames men’s first names? And has the fact that Geraldine James’s name is the same as Geraldine James’s held her back? Or has the actress been unaffected by the rise of the Selfridges buyer?

Whatever the truth, Gregory and James have had a great week. Selfridges opened the fake snow-sprayed doors of its Christmas store on Monday, 31 July, and the press has been lapping up the story like alcoholic cats around a splat of eggnog. Because it’s so early, isn’t it?! “147 days early”, according to the Times and the Guardian, which presumably advocate doing your Christmas shopping on Christmas Day itself. It’s still summer! It’s ridiculous! Whatever next!? Driverless buses? A Tweeter laureate? A government using chemical weapons on its own people?

Whoops, I’ve slipped news genres. Which isn’t the point of this at all. You’ll have got the wrong sort of tut ready. But please don’t worry: you’ll only need your “Christmas retail push getting earlier every year” tut from here on and you can save your chemical weapons tut for another time. Doing the two next to each other never feels great and calls into question the whole efficacy of tutting as a force for positive change, an embarrassing sensation for well-meaning westerners.

So Greg and Jim were happy, and the press was happy, and the Selfridges shoppers whose views were sought out by the press were happy – and enjoyed the affectation of interest on the faces of reporters to whom they either said “I think it’s silly” or “I think it’s fine”, with just a smattering of “It seems a bit silly but I suppose it’s fine”. Bloody Lib Dems.

But I was surprised. All my life, people have bemoaned how retailers start gearing up for Christmas earlier and earlier in the year. In my childhood, adults never missed the chance to spoil the fun of a first glimpse of tinsel on an otherwise joyless trip to buy a duffle coat. So, all these years later, it was a shock to discover that the process has still only got as far as the end of July.

Let’s get it over with, I say. The sooner the Christmas retail serpent’s ravening fangs make contact with its own juicy tail, and we have a year-round ever more tightly constricting festive embrace, the better. We can then accept the situation and move on, like we’ve accepted post office closures and the new KitKat wrapper and Winnie-the-Pooh’s American accent and a thousand other small worsenings that powerful people have decided we deserve.

Speaking as a miserable sod, I look forward to it. Instead of lamenting a trend, we can settle down into patronising younger people with anecdotes about how great it was when there were great stretches of the year when you genuinely couldn’t buy lametta (except on the internet).

A major reason this seasonal department is such a PR hit is that Christmas is more interesting when it’s incongruous. Hence the perennial popularity of those news stories about local oddballs who never take their decorations down and eat turkey with all the trimmings 365 times a year. Set against a background of everyday life, we can see Christmas’s strangeness more clearly: the curious food, the weird music, the garish interior design and the baffling proliferation of apparently unlinked symbols: snowmen, reindeer, Middle Eastern shepherds, parcels, stars, bells, bearded geriatrics dressed in red, triangular trees, babies and holly.

Christmas is like our whole culture putting on a disguise – different customs, music, cuisine, symbolism, way of life. If aliens observed us throughout December, they might think they’d got a handle on what we’re like but then, suddenly, it would all change. “What’s happened to the jingly, present-giving, arguing, snow-obsessed over-eaters?” they’d ask in January. “Suddenly they seem depressed – which is odd because it’s finally started to snow.”