A Christmas tree in October? Homeowner helps to spread some early festive cheer
Christmas can't come soon enough for one Northern Ireland man.
While the rest of us are preparing for Halloween and the clocks going back, Paul McGeown has already plonked a silver Christmas tree in his garden.
But there is method in the 43-year-old's Yuletide madness – and that is to spread some festive cheer among his neighbours.
"Fireworks, scary masks and sparklers aren't going to help tensions between people in the neighbourhood, in my opinion, so I thought the tree and a couple of snowmen might help people get along better together," he said.
"Since I put up the tree last Sunday everyone already seems to have stopped fighting and I hope that continues."
He added: "Halloween just doesn't mean anything at all to me so I don't celebrate it or do anything special on October 31."
Mr McGeown, who lives alone at Fallswater Street in west Belfast, doesn't have to look too far for Noel-loving kindred spirits.
For several weeks Christmas trees have been popping up in a variety of places across the country including Larne, Carrowdore, Carryduff and Moneymore.
Elsewhere, the big retailers have begun to embellish their massive displays in earnest, with cards and wrapping paper prominent.
Marks and Spencer and BHS in Belfast city centre, for example, have moved their Christmas wares to the front of their flagship stores.
There are other early tell-tale signs to herald the impending arrival of December 25 on the high street and beyond.
Budget clothes giant Primark is selling Christmas jumpers, Boots the pharmacy chain is offering up holiday sandwiches and the Swedish global furniture retailer Ikea has Christmas trees up for grabs. But if the truth be told, the big supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda – began to pepper shelves with festive fare at the end of the summer.
First, there were tins and tubs of chocolates, then came the ubiquitous selection boxes, followed by various other products with packaging festooned with snow.
Tesco is even selling mince pies that have a best-before date of October 28. A decade ago most retailers started their Christmas promotions this month, but industry experts say they have been forced into them sooner because people are planning ahead and budgeting.
Mary White, a 34-year-old teacher from Carrickfergus, said she has already bought most of her gifts for family and friends.
"I don't mind the fact that preparations for Christmas are getting earlier every year," the mother-of-two said.
"I actually start stocking up on presents in the January sales because it's too expensive to wait."
Brian McNeill, from east Belfast, said it was "ridiculous" for people to buy selection boxes in August.
"I'm also not sure anyone remembers that this is supposed to be about the birth of Jesus Christ."