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Santa has arrived at area malls, Christmas music is on the radio, and the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle is ringing again.

The ghosts and ghouls of Halloween have barely been laid to rest, but there’s no denying it: The holiday season is here.

“Thanksgiving is just getting kind of lost. It used to be when families and friends gathered, but now that many families are separated by miles, it’s not as common as it used to be,” said Bonnie Knutson, a professor at the School of Hospitality Business at MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business.

Instead, the focus has shifted to shopping, with nearly every retailer providing holiday deals earlier and earlier. It’s all part of a trend many analysts call “Christmas Creep.”

“The younger you go, the less resistance there is to this thing called Christmas Creep,” said Knutson. “These kids have grown up with it, getting up at the crack of dawn to go get the deals.”

Most sales forecasting firms estimate holiday sales will increase 3-5 percent over last year.

Deloitte predicts a 4-4.5 percent increase in November to January sales.

“Income, wage and job growth are positive indicators heading into the holiday season,” said Daniel Bachman, Deloitte’s senior U.S. economist. “Debt levels remain at historical lows, and stock market gains coupled with increasing home prices have a wealth effect on consumers, which may encourage increased spending compared with prior years.”

The outlook for Metro Detroit sales is not as rosy.

Deloitte surveyed 512 area residents and found 39 percent plan to spend less this holiday season than last year. At $1,073, Detroit consumers expect to spend 17 percent less than the national average and 27 percent less than other cities.

The National Retail Federation, however, is more optimistic, estimating a 4.1 percent increase in November and December sales to $616.9 billion, compared to last year’s 3.1 percent increase for the same time frame.

Holiday hiring is robust, too.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to hire 60,000 temporary holiday workers for the crucial holiday season, an increase of 10 percent from last year. Macy’s plans to hire 86,000; Kohl’s is adding more than 67,000 — a 15 percent increase that averages 50 per store — and Michigan-based retailer Meijer Inc. plans to boost its hiring 10 percent. Job fairs for most positions have already been held.

With more spending comes more shipping. UPS doubled its hiring from last year, to 95,000, while FedEx plans to add 50,000 for the holidays.

As brick-and-mortar and online stores offer up a seemingly endless buffet of deals, consumers are becoming pickier and busier, says Knutson.

“There’s a movement toward personalization and customization, and that takes time,” she said. “You’ve got to plan ahead.”

To help with that time crunch, over the last decade malls have been getting their holiday offerings out sooner, including opportunities to meet with Santa Claus.

“A lot of people want to get their kids’ pictures with Santa for holiday cards and you have to do that early,” said Laura Forbes, spokeswoman for Simon Malls, which operates Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, where the man in the red suit arrived Thursday. “It just gives people more time. Once it gets into Thanksgiving, it gets really busy.”

Emily Taucher, marketing and sponsorship director for Twelve Oaks Mall, said the Novi shopping center is combining Santa’s presence with a “Frozen”-themed snow palace where children can sing along to their favorite songs from the Disney movie. The display opened Thursday.

“There are people who like to get the whole Santa thing out of way,” said Taucher. “When they wait until the last minute, the lines get pretty long.”

She said it seems like customers appreciate having that option.

“It seems like it’s this way with everything. You see Halloween stuff out earlier. You see Christmas stuff out earlier,” said Taucher. “Really, it seems like everybody is so busy these days and everyone is trying to get a jump-start on things.”

In downtown Detroit, the 60-foot tall Norway spruce that will serve as Campus Martius’ Christmas tree this season was put up Wednesday, a full 50 days before Christmas Eve. The lighting ceremony will be Nov. 21, but the tree comes early because it takes about three weeks to wrap all the branches with a total of 19,000 multicolored LED lights and ornaments, said Robert Gregory, president of the Detroit 300 Conservancy, which operates the park.

He said it’s not too early for the tree.

“Once we get past Halloween, people start to get in the mood, so why not?” said Gregory. “It’s become a family tradition over the last (11) years.”

And the best part for retailers? All that holiday cheer puts people in the mood to buy more, said Knutson.

“People don’t buy when they’re mad or sad. They buy when they feel good,” said Knutson. “With Christmas music or Santa Claus, it’s hard to be in a bad mood.”

lrazzaq@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2127

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