Niagara Gazette

December 25, 2013

BRADBERRY: What IS Christmas, really?

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The National Retail Federation projected holiday sales to rise 3.9 percent this year to $602.1 billion. At least $72 billion of that will be spent on “obligatory holiday season travel” according to Hotwire’s American Travel Behavior Survey conducted by Harris International earlier this year.

And pollster Gallup’s analysis indicated that on average, American adults will spend $786 on Christmas gifts this year. “U.S. Adults’ Estimate of Their Total Christmas Spending” concluded last October that “Nearly nine in 10 U.S. adults say they will spend some amount of money this year on Christmas gifts.”

Thirty percent, identical to last year, plan to spend at least $1,000, and half plan to spend at least $500. Only three percent intend to spend less than $100.”

Apparently, two of the hottest gifts this year, the PlayStation4 and the Xbox One will set some parents back at least $400 to $500 while gift cards will likely top millions of wish lists again this year.

Gallup further reported that last year Americans spent just over $400 on gifts for family, $75 for friends, and about $25 on gifts for co-workers while nearly 60 percent of shoppers purchased gifts for themselves.

There are several annual shopping surveys that try to predict our holiday shopping habits, though they rarely agree on the precise numbers, they also rarely miss the trends.

One shopping analyst’s website known as “the Prowl” conducted a survey of 511 mothers on holiday spending finding that “mothers expect to spend $224 on average for gifts for each child and almost the same amount on gifts for their husband or partner.”

I’m certainly not trying to sound like Scrooge, here, but I have to ask, “Why do we do this, what’s the point?”

While I completely get and appreciate the concept of exchanging gifts at this time of year, I must admit, I don’t quite comprehend the emphasis on the economy of it all.

Does Christmas really have to be all about the money?

When I think about how much we’re spending on travel, shopping and food for the holidays I cannot help but wonder how in the world my parents could afford it.

Clearly, we spend money on travel because we want to be with family, at least for Christmas; the rest of the year, maybe not so much. Over the river and through the woods sometimes may be more than enough to last for at least a year!

And the gifts; do they really have to cost so much that our entire retail economy depends on it for the whole year?

Sure, when I was a kid, I loved Christmas gifts, I still do, but back then, our presents seemed to last longer even though, I am certain, beyond all reasonable doubt that my parents spent nowhere near $200 each on their eight children; in fact, I doubt that they spent that much for the whole “shebang!”

That Lionel train set I got when I was probably no more than seven or eight years old was made out of real steel; it survived several decades of serious abuse, being kicked, tossed, dropped and submerged hundreds of times without showing any significant signs of deterioration for years even after I handed it down to my younger brother who decided to see what it was made of and could never seem to put completely back together.

I was perfectly happy to get any additional accessory that I could add to my set every Christmas.

We always had huge jig-saw puzzles depicting Currier & Ives Christmas scenes piled on a big card-table set up someplace near the big tree which we all helped decorate with special baubles, bulbs and trinkets that Mom cherished for their memories; she’d say, “and this one was MY sister’s favorite” or, she might say, “We put this one near the top, the year YOU were born” she might whisper to each my baby sisters.

The puzzle-table became a sort of quiet sanctuary, a corner where one person or the whole family might sit in complete contemplative silence broken only by the joyful shriek of the find and placement of some elusive piece that served as a key link to an entire section of the puzzle, which when finally complete, was routinely scrambled again and again without a single piece ever being permanently lost; the whole puzzle would be carefully, painstakingly put back together every single year.

We all had Christmas stockings, nothing fancy; they were real socks, American-made of cotton or wool, each completely decorated with our own name hand sewn by Mom, each one completely filled with tangerines, apples, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and real Christmas candy ribbons, and my favorite, chocolate-filled hard candies, the kind my parents warned us not to bite down so hard on for fear we’d break our teeth which could result in a trip to the most evil doctor in the world, the dentist.

Like Thanksgiving, dinner was equally exciting though we were permitted to skip the usual formal breakfast, everyone was just too excited to sit still at the dining room table and eat like we usually did on most other occasions.

A slice of Mom’s delicious homemade sweet potato, apple or lemon meringue pie, or a slice of her pineapple upside-down or butter-rich pound cake and a tall glass of ice cold milk sufficed as breakfast once a year, and we loved it; dessert for breakfast, oh yeah!

I had things to invent with my new chemistry-set, my sisters had dolls’ hair to comb until their dolls heads were completely bald, usually by day’s-end, my brother and I had new tracks to lay, and more cars to add to the train set every year.

We all got a new clothes, socks, and coloring books to color and books read every Christmas; most of all, we had each other, we still do!

We had been to midnight mass the night before, had sung at the top of our voices along with the church choir and then sang Jingle Bells together in the station-wagon as we headed home, with at least one little sister too sleepy to make it into the house without being carried, eyes flashing, face smiling, feigning sleep to get Dad’s shoulder-ride from the car to the house.

We were perfectly happy, and I doubt the whole Christmas cost anything near the stresses it puts us all through today.

Anyway, however much or little it may cost you, remember this: the greatest gift anyone can possibly give anyone else, including oneself today and every day is LOVE; feel it, share it; it’s free; THAT, I think, is what Christmas is really all about.

M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S E V E R Y O N E !

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com