Christmas comes early to London's top stores
It's the height of the British summer, but inside London's top department stores, a winter wonderland has been unveiled for visitors who just can't wait until Christmas.
Harrods and Selfridges launched their Christmas decoration sales on July 28, the earliest ever with an impressive 149 days to go until December 25, while Hamleys announced its predictions for the top Christmas toys one month ago.
In a nod to the seasonal absurdity, customers at Harrods, in upmarket Knightsbridge, were treated to the "12 ice creams of Christmas", with flavours including Christmas pudding with brandy butter, mulled wine and even Brussels sprouts.
Foreign families on holiday in Britain, many dressed in shorts and t-shirts and sporting sunglasses, walked around slightly bemused as "Let it Snow" and other festive tunes were piped across the store's "Christmas World".
"We were just passing by and were astonished to see it at this time of year," said Marien Lydi, 47, a tourist from Belgium, as she surveyed the snow-covered Christmas trees and piles of baubles.
"It is nice to have a look at but to actually buy something for your Christmas tree, it is a bit early."
Both Harrods and Selfridges said the early onset of Christmas aimed to cater for an international market and the influx of summer tourists to the capital.
There were also reports that the July openings were engineered to beat the early start of the Muslim festival Ramadan, a month-long fast which begins on August 1 this year, 11 days earlier than in 2010.
London's Evening Standard newspaper reported a "Ramadan rush" in the city's department stores.
"We do expect our Middle East customers to come this weekend, just before Ramadan starts and they will probably come back once it ends," said Geraldine James, buying manager in charge of the Christmas department at Selfridges.
She said the store on London's famous Oxford Street was opening the section four days earlier than in 2010 to include the last weekend in July.
"Now most of our customers are international visitors, from China, the Middle East, America -- the Americans love Christmas -- and the Christmas shop attracts tourists," James told AFP.
A Harrods spokesman added: "We get a lot of international clients from all over the world and we are catering for their demands. Peak season for us is July-August and we get quite a lot of customers asking for Christmas products."
Some Britons were also keen to get a head start on their gift lists.
"It is incredibly early to start your Christmas shopping. But I read about it in the papers and had a moment and decided to come," said Gaye Baker, 50, from Yorkshire in northern England.
"I think I'll buy something for my daughter and she will probably think I have gone mad buying Christmas decorations in July."
Selfridges said its bestselling product so far was a Union Jack bauble selling for £11.95 ($19.60, 13.60 euros), while the colours "neon" and "cappuccino" seemed to be on trend this season.
At Harrods, customers can find more than 250,000 decorations ranging in price from £1.99 tree decorations to a £299 silver wire reindeer, and even a life-size Father Christmas ornament, priced at £2,999.
For some customers, it was all too much.
"I love Christmas, I could celebrate it all year round," said Australian tourist Elca.
© 2011 AFP