The Christmas shopping adverts from the major department stores have been running on television for a few weeks already and the usual fairy-tale images and winter warming sentiment is ever present. But it's not looking like it will be a fairy-tale Christmas for UK consumers.
A harsh squeeze on British households remains: data this week has shown inflation bubbling at 3% and annual earnings growth averaging 2.2%. This equals a negative wage gap of 0.8 percentage points.
Thanks to record low levels of unemployment - at 4.3% in October, UK joblessness remained at a four-decade low - consumers have, hitherto, felt comfortable with borrowing to offset the fall in real wages.
The recent Bank of England rate rise, however, means that borrowing has suddenly become more expensive and consumer are likely to become increasingly wary of extending credit.
The annual pace of consumer credit growth has been above 10% for much of the year - only slowing to 9.9% in September. But a steep fall in car loans indicates that figure is likely to weaken in the coming months.
Indeed, credit card company Visa reported this week that UK consumer spending declined for the fifth time in the past six months in October.
So, what of Christmas? It is the peak season for British retailers, and while it is unlikely to be a total washout, recent retail reports have been disappointing.
“The pre-Christmas trading season got off to a poor start for retailers with October spending falling at the fastest rate in over four years," says Mark Antipof, chief commercial officer at Visa.
"The figures are a stark indicator of the strain on household budgets even before the Bank of England’s (BoE) recent interest rate rise," he adds.
Official retail sales data from the Office for National Statistics showed that annual pace of retail sales fell 0.3% in October, the first fall since 2013.
"The combination of high inflation and meagre wage growth means that real pay continues to fall, the consequence of which is being increasingly felt on the high street," says Chris Williamson at IHS Markit.
Breaking down the inflation data shows that food and non-alcoholic beverages prices rose by 4.1% in October, the biggest contribution to the overall rate. Housing and household services and recreation also made large contributions.
Food sales are important for grocery retailers around the Christmas period, and any major slowing in consumer activity at this time will have a severe impact on supermarket sales.
Under the BoE's forecasts, inflation is likely to slow over the coming few months while wage growth picks up.
Looking first at inflation, the biggest impact on prices has been the weak pound - particularly for imported goods. The Bank hopes that its rate hike will add support for the UK currency and its inflationary impact will weaken.
But is this really likely given the uncertain economic and political environment?
Lukman Otunuga at FXTM thinks not: "With the trajectory of the pound tilted to the downside amid mounting political risk and ongoing Brexit uncertainty, the BoE could receive an unpleasant surprise, in the form of rising inflation before year end.
"The pound’s woes are likely to be compounded by the ever-fading prospects of higher UK interest rates."
Ruth Gregory at Capital Economics, however, believes the inflationary impact of sterling weakness has already begun to fade with the evidence in falling input costs for producers.
"It will still take time for easing cost pressures to be reflected in shop price inflation, nonetheless, this is likely to be the point at which inflation peaks," she says.
Wage growth ought to be a less sinewy problem. With little flexibility in the labour market, employers should soon have to start paying more to hold on to experienced staff. And there was anecdotal evidence in recent employment surveys that this is true - employers are reporting recruitment difficulties in many parts of the country.
There's a counter argument, however, that suggests employers will be in no rush to award pay increases.
"Falling consumer confidence suggests that fewer workers will be willing to move jobs over the next year, easing the pressure on firms to implement large, across-the-board wage increases," says Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
Certainly, the imbalance between inflation and wages will not be worked out by this Christmas and only time and data will tell if consumers and, therefore, retailers enjoy the best of the season.
Hamstrung Bank of England
There are few signs that sterling can pick up any time soon. The BoE is certainly in no rush to apply a second rate increase that may help support the pound.
Imported luxury goods make fine Christmas gifts, but the weak pound is making these expensive to buy.
The bottom line, then, is that both inflation and limp wage growth could both end up being stickier than many, including the BoE, have forecast, hampering the BoE in its rate decisions. This, together with political, economic and Brexit uncertainties continue to undermine the pound.
Amid these uncertainties, consumer confidence is unlikely to make a rapid bounce and this will keep pressure on consumer spending in the run up to Christmas.
There could be some hope for a bonanza seasonal spending spree, however. Recent weak retail sales data could indicate shoppers are holding their purchases back now, so as to have more spending power closer to Christmas.
Gregory at Capital Economics suggests: "Consumers may have cut back in October in order to spend more in the run-up to Christmas.”
Annabel Fiddes at IHS Markit adds: “Retailers will now be pinning their hopes on strong performance around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. November’s data will therefore provide the first real clue on how Christmas is shaping up,"
If it does turn out to be bad news for this Christmas, at least it comes every year. Here's hoping for more seasonal cheer for Britain's consumers and retailers next time around.