Our SW Londoner reporter Nadine Burnham-Marshalleck looks at the pressures to spend what we don’t have for this Christmas.
The sound of Christmas carols hits me as shoppers bustle about with stress etched on their flushed faces.
Every shelf is stacked with glittery baubles and festive trinkets.
You could be forgiven for thinking this was mid-December. But, you would be very wrong.
It’s August and the Harrods’ Christmas department is in full swing.
A month later, while many of us embraced the last of the summer sun, Tesco employees were stacking the shelves with the first batch of mince pies.
This year Harrods’ Christmas department opened on 28th July. That’s a whopping 150 days before Christmas Day.
According to a Harrods’ spokesman, this is the earliest the Christmas department has ever opened.
“For some customers July might be too early to think about Christmas but for a majority the opening is a light-hearted event,” said the spokesman.
“It gives our customers the option of being able to visit the store to start their Christmas shopping early in the year.”
Before I’ve put away my flip flops and bid farewell to my bikini, it seems every retailer has been bitten by the festive bug.
Has the Church decided little baby Jesus was actually delivered sometime in mid-October?
Is Santa planning to deliver presents a bit earlier so he can chill-out for the rest of 2011?
Or, is it just a ploy to get us all spending a lot more than we can afford?
I hate to be cynical but I’m starting to think it’s the latter.
With the economic downturn affecting most people’s mortgages, surely the number of gifts under the tree is the least of our worries.
According to a recent Legal & General report, more shoppers are being forced to curb their spending this Christmas.
The survey shows that three out of ten UK households’ Christmas budget will be less this year.
Mark Gregory, Legal & General Executive Director Savings, said: “We reported that a million households are worse off now than they were just one year ago.”
The survey results suggest 1.6million UK households cannot afford Christmas presents and celebrations this year.
Only 67% of households say they can afford to pay for this year’s festive season.
Mr Gregory said: “How much ‘Christmas expense cover’ households have appears to depend on where you live.”
According to the survey, London and the West Midlands are the areas which are struggling the most.
In these regions, only six out of ten households say they can afford to pay for Christmas.
However most people I spoke to in South West London seem to have started their Christmas shopping early to avoid a costly last-minute dash.
“I think it’s always good to prepare early,” said Anthony Crawford, 18, a student from Battersea.
“I started my shopping early this year by doing a lot of it on the internet.”
Lennox Walker, 47, a sales manager from Mitcham, said: “I am buying presents early, but as a parent Christmas should start in December.”
“There’s too much pressure to buy, buy, buy months before Christmas,” he added.
It is a little depressing that the festive season seems to be more about who gets the flashiest watch or the chicest handbag.
Of course I know that if we all stopped spending our economy would be in an even shoddier state.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we should ditch gifts altogether.
I have to admit I would be more than partial to receiving a flashy present on the big day.
However I hate the thought of giving or receiving gifts that we’ll still be paying for well into 2012.
Surely the whole point of Christmas is to enjoy time with friends and family while fighting over the last Quality Street and deciding whether to watch Eastenders or Corrie.
Hopefully, if we have learnt one thing from another year of financial hardship is that ploughing ourselves into more debt for the sake of a merrier Christmas is pointless.
When all the presents have been opened and the bubbly has been drunk, the worst hangover will be realising you have seriously overspent.
So while I’ll be happy if Santa leaves something nice for me under the tree, I really hope he doesn’t break the bank to do so.