Traditional Christmas words and images are vanishing from festive promotions with retailers aiming for mass appeal in the year of coronavirus, experts say.

Words like ‘reindeer’ and ‘Santa’ have become popular, with television adverts reflecting more personal experiences in modern Britain. Thronging carol scenes, quaint nativities and shots including a ‘cast of thousands’ have been relegated due to changing times.

But the trend has been accompanied by a warning that the celebration is in danger of becoming a ‘blancmange’ affair, stripped of any real meaning to avoid causing offence.

On shelves, many products only hint at the connection.

Maltesers is advertising its Reindeer Advent Calendar, with the reference to Christmas occupying a thin strip on the bottom of the packet.



Cadbury has opted for headlines of ‘Quizmas’ and ‘reindeer cakes’ on some of its festive lines.

Supermarkets have also given Christmas a low-key presence on some in-house products, with Sainsbury’s offering ‘dinner crackers’ and ‘snow-tipped trees’. Tubs of Celebrations and Quality Street chocolates piled high in stores keep an extended life cycle by not displaying any obvious Christmas messages.

While retailers and manufacturers have previously been criticised for downgrading Christian themes at Easter, branding experts told there was more at play as the economy tries to overcome the hit from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jonathan Gabay, a branding psychologist and podcaster, said: ‘From a branding point of view the word Christmas is a disaster.

‘Instead, it’s about the season of giving, where you don’t have to be a Christian to show kindness to others. It’s a multi-cultural, multi-faith celebration uniting people in goodwill.

‘It’s about showing kindness and being seen to show kindness, with the perception of being seen to give being more important than the reality.

‘From an economic point of view, this Christmas more than any other Christmas it’s imperative for retailers to get people through the tills.

‘Especially in the Covid era, it isn’t so much about tradition but about pounds, shillings and pence.’

But Mr Gabay did identify a general break with the more traditional themes of Christmas.

He said: ‘My personal point of view is that I don’t think we should get rid of the traditional aspect of Christmas.

‘I’m not Christian but I still respect the tradition and everything it stands for. In an era where everyone is trying not to offend everyone else everything becomes a bit blancmange, with no real substance.

‘From a retail point of view it’s about a day of giving and kindness. Christians would say that is called Christmas without putting a name on it. I think it’s a great shame to lose that.’

Lou Ellerton, Director at Kantar Consulting, identified a trend in people preparing for a longer festive season this year as they look to home comforts as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions.

‘This year in particular indulgence gifting is going to be even more of a theme than it has been previously,’ she said.



‘Part of the indulgence is having something that feels more timeless and doesn’t feel quite as linked to Christmas. The other side is that this year people are preparing for Christmas earlier and the manufacturers have not so much been caught on the hop but their ranges aren’t quite their key Christmas lines.

‘People are decorating their houses earlier than ever so there’s been a move away from Christmas in terms of gifting.

The other thing is if you put Christmas on the packaging you have to discount it by ninety per cent at the end of December.’

Changing times have also come into play, with a Sainsbury’s television advert featuring a black family in a nostalgia-tinged setting leading to boycott threats and accusations of ‘virtue signalling’ on social media.

Tesco has also shown a more diverse face to Christmas in its advert showing people on their own or in socially-distanced settings.

Lou said: ‘We have seen a real celebration of family, of connections and of the modern family.

‘This year, more than any other, we have seen the idea of family going beyond the idea of 2.4 white children. It’s become part of the scenery rather than something to call out, despite the racist reaction from a minority.

‘The other side of it is we have seen the cast of thousands that used to be in the Christmas ads to be less prevalent.

‘This fits with the year and the sense of celebrating the personal connection rather than pouring time and money into the huge showstoppers that highlight what we’re missing.’


Mr Gabay added: ‘With the Sainsbury’s advert I simply saw a family enjoying Christmas.

‘It didn’t register if they were black or white. If it hadn’t of been for the pathetic reaction I wouldn’t even have noticed.’

Shoppers preparing for Christmas early increased sales by 5.6% in September, according to a report by the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Retailers have been encouraging customers to look ahead in order to manage demand and keep people safe ahead of the final weeks.

It’s understood that Tesco stocks a wide range of Christmas products featuring phrases and other seasonal imagery. has invited other major retailers and manufacturers to comment.

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