Christmas In a Down Economy

Now that Halloween is over, the retailers have removed the gloves and stopped pretending like any other holiday matters. It’s now full speed ahead to Christmas. Usually I dread this time of year.

I enjoy Christmas itself but I hate all the trappings that go along with it. I hate the marketing hype and the focus on spending. I prefer to keep my celebrations small and meaningful, not lavish and expensive. And my “smallness” of celebration has always made me a bit of an oddball in the eyes of many. But this year is different. For the first time in many years I find myself excited about Christmas again. Or at least interested.

I’ve already heard from many people that they intend to drastically scale down their Christmas’s this year due to the sour economy. They intend to give fewer gifts, to make more gifts, or to give gifts of time instead of physical objects. They may decorate less or make their own decorations. They intend to do more with family and worry less about big, impersonal parties. They may volunteer more this season, or give to families more needy than themselves. They may make Christmas more about their faith than about shopping. All of this is a refreshing change from the years of “Christmas as shopping event.”

The retailers are still intent on spoiling this peaceful Christmas vibe, however. The marketing machine will probably rev itself right over the top this year as desperate retailers attempt to make a whole year’s profit in two months. But all the hype in the world won’t help if people aren’t willing to participate. And while there will be many who line up on Black Friday and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the spend and stress season, there will be many more who choose (or are forced) to opt out this year. There will be many more who get back to what the season was meant to be about and who rediscover that the joy in the season isn’t about spending. It’d be nice to have at least one holiday season where someone doesn’t get trampled, shot, or beaten up in a melee over some cheap plastic junk.

Of course, there will some heartaches this year, too. Kids who have never known anything but trees bursting with gifts will be disappointed with much less loot. They won’t be happy to spend more time with family or satisfied with homemade presents, instead. And those who’ve always gotten Christmas bonuses at work will be disappointed when the checks don’t come (a la Clark Griswold in the movie “Christmas Vacation.”) But I think that on the whole many people will be happier and more content with a smaller, less expensive Christmas.

While it’s sad that this “shrinking” of Christmas has to come at the expense of so many jobs and with so much misery for many, it’s also exciting to think about getting back to a holiday season that means something besides sales and shopping. Even if you don’t celebrate the Christian tradition of Christmas, there are still many other meaningful celebrations this time of year that have been swept away under the marketing tsunami that is Christmas. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, and the turning of a new year all offer a chance to reflect and bond with family. And much of that has been lost in recent years.

I’ll watch this season with interest to see how it goes. While very little of my own celebrations will change, I’ll watch to see how others change and whether they find relief in those changes or if they are chomping at the bit to get back to a season of spending. I hope for the former. While I’m not opposed to giving gifts, I wish and hope that some of the insanity that accompanies the season will tone down a bit and that maybe those changes will stick. I doubt it. Once the consumption horse is out of the barn it’s hard to get him back in and keep him there for long. But maybe for one year we can have a quieter, smaller, and more meaningful season, thanks to the down economy.

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8 Responses to Christmas In a Down Economy

  1. EF Cussins says:

    I enjoy the time to focus on family and relationships. What I hate is the stress that goes with getting the right Christmas present for everybody around me.

  2. Pat Merritt says:

    When I was little, in Flint Michigan, there was a labor strike around Christmas and my parents had no money at all for gifts.

    I remember that as the bestest Christmas ever. My Dad made me a snow tiger and cubs in the backyard, and a spinning top out of a thread bobbin, rubber band and a stick. My Mom held me on her lap all day.

    They paid attention to me. I think that if parents do this for their kids, they will feel the same.

  3. Money does not make a memorable gift most of the time anyway!

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  4. George says:

    Lashing out against retailers is not personal finance advice. Your personal problems with Christmas spending are justified and even applauded. However it’s an error to judge others and your article has no content.
    I usually enjoy the articles here, but I can’t encourage writing such as this.

  5. Emily says:

    Christmas has been and will always be an interesting topic of discussion which is what this format is all about. Every year I learn more about myself, my family and my friends in and around Christmas time. Suffice to say what works in my world will not necessarily work in yours. In this country the need to judge and criticize seems to be slowing now that 50 million people are uninsured, 10.2% noted as unemployed although I feel the percentage is much, much higher. That might be one of the true Christmas gifts that will not be found under the tree. Compassion. I hope to see more of that virtue this Christmas….

  6. Ronny Howard says:

    I think all gifting in general, xmas included, should be budgeted and you should not go overboard.

    Saving up for it throughout the year makes it easier to handle when it comes time to use it all.

  7. Asabi Olayinka says:

    Christmas is not only about what we can buy to indulge ourselves, but how much of human milk of kindness that can flow from us to the needy and the neglected ones

  8. Kelly says:

    Our family has used to organize a secret santa-type gift exchange. We even set it up among the little cousins so they can participate in giving some kind of gift to the cousin whose name they drew. We all feel there is too much excess and stress around the holidays, so it is a tradition we hope continues through the generations of our family. As for the wishlist items some of us add to our profile, they do include things like “babysit our kids so my husband and I can enjoy a movie or dinner”, walk our dog while we are on vacation.

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