The blitz begins while Jack-O-Lanterns are fresh and Thanksgiving turkeys are still frozen, a manic parade of hip elves, sexy angels, reluctant Santas, wisecracking families, toy-obsessed children and even those Euro-trash terrorists who crash holiday office parties.
Entertainment industry pros still call them "Christmas movies."
While the logic may be circular, a "Christmas movie is a movie that everyone expects to be shown on television during the Christmas season two or three years after it was released and then at Christmas for years and years after that," said entertainment scribe Hank Stuever, author of "Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present."
"It's easy to explain why people think 'Love Actually' is a Christmas movie, or 'Home Alone' is a Christmas movie, or 'Elf' is a Christmas movie. What's hard to explain is why 'Die Hard' as a Christmas movie."
All it takes for a movie to earn this label is few holiday touches. This means adding symbolic dollops of decorations, lights, songs, tears, travel, parties and shopping to a family-friendly script, said Stuever, a veteran Washington Post reporter. Most importantly, these movies can be chopped up and surrounded by all of the advertisements that power the season.
"The television is always right there in the middle of everything and everyone in the room -- all ages -- needs to agree to watch what's on," he said.
Skeptics might ask how "Christmas movies" are linked to the actual holy season on the Christian calendar. That misses the point, said Stuever. The rites depicted in these movies are not about Christmas, as much as they are evidence of how most Americans actually celebrate Christmas.
Take the classic "A Christmas Story," with its tale of young Ralphie and his life-and-death quest for an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. This may be "the least religious Christmas movie ever made," he said.
Instead, it tracks the preparatory rites for an American Christmas, such as worrying over the perfect Santa letter, struggling with tree decorations, facing the store Santa, preparing an epic meal and, of course, endless litanies of hints about must-have toys. Everything must be perfect in order to produce the explosion of joy and wonder that is supposed to surround the Christmas-morning extravaganza.
For centuries, Christians prepared for the 12-day Christmas season -- which begins on Dec. 25 -- with four solemn weeks of Advent. "What we have now is a kind of secular Advent. ... That's what we see in 'A Christmas Story,' " noted Stuever. While believers used to fast and pray during Advent, now "we shop and watch television."
At the opposite pole of the Christmas-movie spectrum is the Golden Age Frank Capra classic "It's a Wonderful Life," noted the Catholic film critic Steven Greydanus, whose runs the DecentFilms.com website.
Rather than depicting a holiday season centering on gift giving and festivities, it offers a parable -- which peaks with shouts of "Merry Christmas!" -- about pain, greed, faithfulness, sacrifice and, ultimately, redemption. It's almost impossible to picture a similar film being made today, let alone by a Catholic filmmaker who wove religious symbolism and themes into his story.
"When you look at 'It's a Wonderful Life' and then you look at a more modern film like 'A Christmas Story' you realize that both of them reflect the eras in which they were created," said Greydanus. "One tells a story about sacrifice and family and faith and community and redemption. The other tells a few funny stories about Christmas and that's that."
So what's the ultimate message?
Greydanus noted that in one popular modern holiday vision, "The Santa Clause 2," the character who is both Scott Calvin and Santa Claus tells adults assembled for a dreary holiday party that they must remember "what the true spirit of Christmas is all about." That turns out to be a wave of child-like wonder produced -- literally -- by bags of toys.
"So in the end, a good Christmas movie these days is one that fits the narrative we see all around us," he added. "It's supposed to provide us with happy, joyful feelings and a wave of nostalgia that we have been taught to associate with Christmas. ...
"Whether that has anything to do with the meaning of the real Christmas season is another matter altogether. But it seems to be hard to make movies about that."