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For those of us already humbugged by how Christmas has changed over the years, we now have to recognize that our most precious holiday has devolved into, of all things, a leading economic indicator.
So much is made of the economy during Christmas season that it seems who is spending how much with whom is discussed almost as much as Santa and far more than Jesus, which is more than a little bit wrong.
Maybe we should just be happy that Santa Claus is not a publicly traded company, his elves aren't unionized and that the cost of his products never affects production. Aren't good behavior and a pure heart priceless? Heck, even cookies and milk are still fairly cheap.
But we seem consumed about whether we are spending enough money to satisfy the economists, the manufacturers, the wholesalers, retailers and investors. We worry that our kids will pout and our siblings will feel slighted. And are we keeping up with our neighbors?
Chances are, some aspect of this has played its way across your life. You may be having a tough year, maybe even lost your job, but you don't want to let that affect how you celebrate this Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
You look at Christmases past and remember their wonder, the joy of those around you and perhaps believe you have to at least maintain if not surpass previous spending levels to avoid casting a pall over your celebration.
But is that the way Christmas has always been for you? Is that the same spirit you've always celebrated?
Christmas is a holiday whose currency should be love and generosity, not just dollars and cents. We should give because we want to, hopefully, not because we feel obligated.
Yes, there is always a touch of quid pro quo, but it's exponentially more genuine than any other even exchange you ever would attempt.
Do you remember how you viewed Christmas as a child?
Yes, you awaited Santa's arrival with unparalleled zeal, making your list, whispering it into his ear during a visit to Bacons or Kaufman's and then counting down the days on your calendar.
But didn't you also plan gifts for your parents and grandparents and siblings?
Didn't you save your dimes and quarters and, on the appointed day each December, take them to Newberry's or Deiss's to spend them on just the right gift?
Maybe you had a whole dollar and went to Lawsons and poured over the earring display case looking for just the right piece of elegance for Mom, though likely without the diamonds and emeralds you'd planned.
Did you stop by Begleys or Smith-McKenney's and pick up some Old Spice for your Dad? Maybe in a big year you would spring for Jade East or Brut.
These you wrapped in remnants of papers and maybe had to seal with masking tape. But they were your gifts, your packages of precious gold and frankincense (myrrh only was sold at the mall).
All those efforts to spend what you had on just the right thing you could afford gave you great pleasure. Seeing Mom wear those earrings to church was a gift in itself.
So when we talk now about the economy and how we won't be able to spend as much this Christmas, aren't we missing the point?
OK, maybe you had to change some traditions. Maybe the multigenerational present-fest that your family always enjoyed had to be scaled down to drawing names for each other. Maybe instead of four gifts from Santa, there were only two.
And maybe some of the gifts were based more on need than want. A good winter coat isn't as much fun or as cool as an I-pod, but it will be a heck of a lot more practical in January.
Yes, you may have changed your perspective, but that doesn't mean Christmas still isn't holly-jolly.
When you sit around the table or the fireplace with family and friends, aren't you really carrying forward the truest spirit of the holiday?
The whole event is based on the most natural gift of a child to parents. He was special, to be sure, and the event was historic, spanning time from BC to AD.
The three visitors from the East didn't stop at the mall or even Target. The shepherds and their flocks didn't worry about whether they were appropriately dressed or even bathed. And the parents, well...they were a lot more concerned with how they would honor such an incredible moment. They didn't even have a room, much less a hospital.
Some of us may be struggling this Christmas, but what we must endure was nothing like that family.
And our gift at Christmas can be taken to our core by knowing that the sacrifices made then were the gifts we get every year and don't have to buy.
Or at least until the economists figure a way to track that spending.
Steve Doyle may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org