Christmas Shopping in a Time of Recession

The winter holidays are a wonderful time of year.  From Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, towns are lit up with beautiful lights, telephone poles are strung with garland, and, if we are lucky, it snows just enough to lend a feel of authenticity to the season.  There are parties with spiked eggnog and trees adorned with stars and angels. Houses glow brighter each night as another candle on the menorah is lit.  On the surface, it's a beautiful season fit for a Norman Rockwell painting.  We need to enjoy that aspect of the holidays more.

Talk with your family about this and find ways to ease the financial burden of Christmas while keeping the spirit.  The idea of homemade gifts or just giving the gift of time to each other may not sit well with kids at first, but this could be a great opportunity to let them know that things are a little tight right now -- not just for the family but for everyone -- and Christmas will have to be low key.

It sounds easy, right?  Just gather the family, give them the talk, and everyone will understand. Everyone will be happy to make and give popsicle stick art for Christmas and renew their closeness by singing carols in front of the fireplace.

Or not.

Maybe somewhere out there exists a family in which Martha Stewart has married Norman Rockwell and the kids are all as sweet as Cindy Brady. But I'm now inclined to believe that family exists only in paintings, made-for-TV movies, and commercials that make us think if only we buy the right products, our families will be less dysfunctional this Christmas.  Apparently, Coca-Cola and Campbell's Soup are all the therapy we need.

It's hard not to buy into the commercialism.  It's difficult to tell our kids that while last Christmas they all got new laptops, this Christmas they will get McDonald's gift certificates and a hug. Anyone who is a parent knows what will happen if you hand out coupons for hugs instead of presents.  There will be mutiny. Let's face it, our kids won't get excited over an imaginary Christmas.  And it's not just the kids; it's us, too.  We get caught up in the frenzy of ads, of well-meaning friends and relatives who want to buy our kids more than we can afford to give them.  The Christmas music, the holiday displays, the Ho! Ho! Ho! at every store; somewhere along the line they all became synonymous with doling out cash.  The Ho! Ho! Ho! Is  more like Buy! Buy! Buy!

Sure, capitalism is a good thing.  I've always criticized those who call the day after Thanksgiving "Buy Nothing Day."  I'm not saying we shouldn't buy anything.  But most of us will be able to buy less this year, and instead of thinking of how that will ruin Christmas, we should be thinking of how it will save Christmas. We can get back to the warmth and joy of the season. We can start appreciating the holidays for the time we spend with family, instead of the time we spend wrapping and then opening gifts.

Yes, the economy is bad.  We've heard some people use the word "depression."  Times are hard.  But let us remember Scrooge, who said, "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." Christmas is about heart.  It's about sharing, joy, family, and traditions.  Our maxed-out credit cards and thinning bank accounts should in no way keep us from embracing those parts of the holiday. Our children may not appreciate the smaller gifts and family togetherness now, but they will learn a valuable, lasting lesson about doing without when money is tight.