Every year on the 1st of December, Gabrielle Derrick unveils a Christmas window at her regional Victorian cafe.
This year, though, she felt an unshakeable urge to decorate early.
“Everyone needed a little extra Christmas cheer this year,” she said. “We have lots of people asking about it all year round, so we thought we’d bring the joy early.”
In mid-November, the Old Mates cafe in Romsey, in the Macedon ranges, released its special Grinch-themed Christmas window, handmade by the team and complete with a bauble adorned, lopsided tree, Santa’s fireplace and Max the dog on a big red chair.
“The community loves it,” Derrick said. “We’ve had lots of customers coming in happy after stopping to have a look.”
The little town isn’t the only one rushing to display their Christmas decorations ahead of schedule.
Once sacrilegious, families across Australia are dragging out the tree and lights weeks before the turn of summer, either overcome with festive spirit or willing a “crappy” year to be over.
Ambiance Christmas Shop Melbourne owner Mel Martino usually puts her tree up in December. This year, it has already been on display for weeks.
Martino’s store, on the edge of Queen Victoria Market, hasn’t had international or interstate tourists to bolster sales since retail reopened in Victoria. But she said it had been a “much busier” November than normal.
“As soon as we reopened we were busy,” she said. “We’ve been locked up so long people are now raring to go. A lot of customers have said they’re putting trees up early because they’re afraid if we go into lockdown again they won’t be able to buy what they want.
“I also think people are just ready to have a lovely happy Christmas. We’re all over lockdowns and Covid … it’s almost as if it’s the first Christmas.”
Regional Victorian retiree Jan Milne joined a string of families in her neighbourhood hanging up decorations early this month. She described the sentiment of many in the state as just “wanting 2021 to be over”.
“It’s been such a crappy year … we, and others locally just need some joy and relief from it all,” she said.
“I do want this year gone. Australia as I knew it has changed, and we need to re-find ourselves. I just smile when I see Christmas lights.”
Melbourne mother of three Kelly Jarvis said her kids had been smiling since she put up the tree in early November. They were “so excited” she bought an additional two trees for their bedrooms.
“Kids haven’t had much fun this year, so we wanted to maximise the excitement of Christmas,” she said.
Moorooduc Christmas Tree Farm manager Jack Walker said this year’s first weekend on 20 November saw sales 20% higher than the same time last year.
“We could tell from calls people were planning to come early,” he said. “I think people more than anything are hoping to have a really good Christmas and are finding ways to make it special.”
Kmart Chadstone manager Tabitha Johnson said there had been higher demand than usual for Christmas items, particularly decorations like baubles and hanging lights. But delays in international deliveries had also limited the amount of stock on display.
“We had a huge shortage coming out of lockdown in October, everyone was interested and knew to get their items early,” she said.
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“But we’ve also been experiencing delays and haven’t had as many drops as usual … particularly when everyone’s looking forward to it.”
It’s not just locked-down states feeling the cheer.
Brisbane woman Susan Cullinan normally waits until the start of December to haul out her Christmas boxes, and “gets anxiety” if she sees decorations come out too early. But for the first time in her “considerably long life,” she was drawn to them in November.
“Last Christmas was a non-event as I was working on the Red Cross Covid response in Europe, and ended up working all day,” she explains. “With only an early morning call to my family at home to watch them eat seafood and drink champagne.
“Being locked down in Covid central away from my loved ones in dark, cold Hungary, I feel like I’m emerging out of the Covid woods now … this year I’m more than ready for Christmas.”
Western Australian Tarnya Widdicombe said her Perth suburb had been filling up with Christmas lights for weeks. “I think Christmas all fell a little short last year, and [it was] stressful,” she said.
“People want to celebrate more this year. There’s a bit of hope we’re getting back to normal – opening dates are on the horizon, and vaccination rates are high.”
For others, this Christmas is about making up for lost time. Wyndham Vale man Brett Lockwood’s house is usually a must-see on any lights tour.
Last year, though, Victoria’s Covid restrictions forced him to cancel his annual display – which features, among other things, a life-scale Thomas tank engine truck adorned with Christmas lights.
“I was upset every time someone drove past the house,” he said. “This year I just can’t wait to see all the smiling faces … from kids and big kids alike.”