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This Britain

Just 149 days left to go... Christmas comes early to Harrods

Wizzard once wished it could be Christmas every day. Well this year, half their dream has come true

Were Birmingham lam rock band Wizzard still performing today they would have had little cause to malign the sad fact that it can't be Christmas every day. They could have just visited Harrods in London. "Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful," the mellow tones of Dean Martin tunefully inform the shoppers on the second floor of Harrods. "And since we've no place to go, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"

The weather outside is in fact 25C, with no clouds punctuating the bright blue sky. A cluster of Korean tourists have not even bothered to remove their sunglasses as they stroll through the store's Christmas Wonderland, which opened to much fanfare yesterday, with a meagre 149 days before Yuletide.

Across town, Selfridges also launched its Christmas display, the earliest each store has ever done so. Both stores said the decision was down to an increase in demand for Christmas souvenirs from international visitors, whose numbers peak in the summer months.

Surprisingly, the increasingly early arrival each summer of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is one reason for the untimely onset of Christmas. The month-long fast begins on 1 August this year, 11 days earlier than in 2010. Selfridges said it expected Middle Eastern tourists to visit earlier than normal. Though Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, many decorate their homes.

The early arrival of Christmas fever is a perennial complaint, but at Harrods yesterday holidaying schoolchildren in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops seemed to be enjoying themselves, darting between plastic icicles hanging from a great white painted oak tree. But their mother wasn't.

"It is a bit daft isn't it, 150 days early," said Rhian Gutteridge, 39, from Ealing. "Who wants to spend half the year looking forward to Christmas? It's like wishing half your life away."

Not just half your life, half your wallet too. Should you wish to top your tree with a Harrods own "KC Paloma" fairy doll, decked out in an unnervingly scant tutu, riding up somewhat at the sides to reveal no shortage of painted pinewood leg, it will cost you £499.

The ice cream however, yesterday at least, was complimentary. The new "12 ice-creams of Christmas" collection includes the flavours mince pie, Christmas pudding with brandy butter, and indeed, Brussels sprouts.

Sitting on his shop mobility cart, scooting past a curiously British themed tree, complete with teddy bear Beefeaters, bagpipers and Union Jack baubles, 77-year-old Joseph Emery from Cranham in Essex was more philosophical about the whole thing. "I don't mind a bit of Christmas in July," he said. "I might not be around for the real thing."

His daughter Claire bought a mistletoe and fig scented candle. The fact that she will not light it for four months didn't seem to bother her. "We always come on opening day. I lived in Australia for five years. I like seeing Father Christmas when it's sunny," she said.

On spotting the sign pointing in the direction of Christmas World, a passing septuagenarian was less generous: "Bloody hell they've got a nerve."

That Christmas creeps back further into the year is perhaps the most obvious evidence of the gradual triumph of consumerism over tradition. It was some way into the 20th century before families brought their Christmas trees indoors any earlier than Christmas Eve. But there are of course many winners with the current way of doing things.

When Selfridges opened on 8 August last year, it first week sales were double that of the previous year, and this year international visitors are up 40 per cent on last year. It is not just the sleigh bells that are ringing.

"Christmas is coming earlier each year. I can see a time when we offer a capsule Christmas collection throughout the year," said Geraldine James, the managing buyer for Selfridge's Christmas shop. "Tourists from China, Russia, Asia, India and the USA see choosing a beautiful Christmas decoration as the perfect memento from their trip."

This year's theme is "white", with 6ft, 7ft and 8ft white Christmas trees starting at £159, though she expects the best-selling Union Jack bauble, at £11.95 to remain as popular as ever.

A spokesman for Harrods said the decision to open early was: "To cater for demand from our international customers who tend to visit the UK at the peak times of June to August. International shoppers are purchasing Harrods Christmas decorations as souvenirs and gifts."

But those who are hoping for a sunlit glimpse of Father Christmas are out of luck. Now that his opening duties have been performed, Santa has returned to Lapland, at least until the Harrods Christmas Parade, in November. Although not before skating on a purpose built ice rink on the store's roof for a video advertising campaign, poking fun at the early arrival of Santa, which Harrods are now frantically forcing to go viral.