Decades ago, Christmastime was simple. Gifts were handmade, families gatherings were much-anticipated, credit cards weren’t a billing option, and Black Friday hadn’t even been conceived.
Fast-forward to today. In an environment in which the national unemployment rate hovers at 9% (much higher for certain segments of the population), poverty rates are at the highest level since 1993, household debt approaches a staggering $12 trillion (although it did decline slightly), and foreclosure rates of which we’re all vividly aware, I wouldn’t have imagined shoppers spending billions of dollars in discretionary shopping in the past few days.
So exactly how much was spent? Black Friday 2011 sales hit a record $11.4 billion, a 39% increase over last year. Add to that the $1.25 billion spent on Cyber Monday (another record-breaker), it’s almost inconceivable that unemployment rates could be so high.
In my mind, I imagined that there would be no time like the present (no pun intended) for a cultural return to homemade gifts for the holiday season. (Disclaimer: I am a Christian and celebrate Christ’s birth, but do recognize that others celebrate holidays for which they shop during this time of year. I am in no way referring to this time of year as “the holidays” for purposes of being politically correct.) However, sales figures prove that my mental picture is wrong.
Humor me. What would Christmas look like if we turned a cultural corner and went back to the simple days of gift-giving and celebrating?
- Batches of baked goods would be exchanged
- Families would gather to dine and sing carols
- Scarves and mittens would be knitted with care
- Stress level would decline
- Toys would be built by the hands of loved ones
But who am I kidding? Based on recent consumer spending, despite household debt figures, I don’t think we’ll make a return to simpler Christmas celebrations of old. I’m not even convinced that consumer spending could go any lower without the proverbial bottom falling out of this already-dismal economy.
Let’s face it. Deal-seekers who camp out in front of electronic stores days before Black Friday, clickers who load and submit shopping carts on Cyber Monday, and a culture in which we want it all and we want it now, are both curses and blessings. They are curses because they lead to rising household debt, but they are blessings in that without them, the unemployment rates would be much higher.
So, no, I don’t think handmade gifts will make a comeback anytime soon. I still plan to bake a few batches of goodies though. 😉