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Stretching Christmas out for months spoils its specialness

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... and it's not even Halloween.

My local Tesco supermarket has a towering tree laden with lights, balls and tinsel.

It's the first thing customers see coming into the Belfast store. There it was, assaulting my eyes, as I took the kids to buy our pumpkin on Saturday night.

My daughters became confused when they saw the tree.

"I thought it was Halloween, not Christmas," my four-year-old said sadly. "Does that mean I've missed trick or treating?"

My eldest asked if the clocks had gone forward from October to December. I wanted to kick that tree over and hurl it down the escalator.

Of course, Tesco is a commercial enterprise driven by profit. But there should be limits. It's insanely early to start celebrating Christmas. The witches' broomsticks, skull masks, and candy apples are still on the shelves.

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We weren't the only shoppers perturbed. A middle-aged man, who didn't look like the sort to get excited about anything, asked a member of staff where he could lodge a complaint.

The danger is that other stores will now be plotting what to do to "catch up".

Will reindeer pulling a red-robed Santa on a sleigh pull up at Sainsbury's this week?

This isn't a case of 'Bah, Humbug!' from a Christmas grump. I love Christmas. Without it the dark, dreary winter months would be intolerable.

Even in those years long after childhood, but before I had kids of my own, the years people can find Christmas disappointing, it sparkled as brightly as ever for me. Christmas is a feelgood time of year, so what's wrong with moving the celebrations a month or two forward, some suggest, if it will make people happier?

They're wrong. Starting early and stretching Christmas out for so many months spoils its specialness. We lose the magic that's there when it's kept as an intense, extraordinary few weeks.

For me, Christmas is to be enjoyed as it unfolds, it's not something to be planned in the diary for months. There's nothing more atmospheric than a last-minute dash to buy presents on December 24. When people tell me that they've finished their Christmas shopping in September, I don't think they're organised, I think they've no life. We should be enjoying time as it is, not hurtling towards a future date in the calendar.

Premature Christmas trees are far from the only offenders.

Prepare for the January sales to be advertised in November. New Year's Day will no sooner be over than the stores will start wheeling out their Easter merchandise.

The children are no sooner out of school for the summer holidays in June than the supermarket aisles are filled with back to school merchandise.

So roll out the tinsel, the neon snowmen, and fairy lights, and let's hear festive songs around the clock, but in December - because otherwise we'll be tired of Christmas before it's even arrived.

Autumn is such a stunning season, we should be in no rush to leave it. Let's savour its bright, crisp afternoons, the kids collecting conkers and crunching amazing coloured leaves.

This is the time for apple dunking, spooky films, fireworks, and pumpkin lanterns. Christmas will come when it's good and ready.

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