Children are the heart of Christmas, but adults are the spine and the brain. This is unfortunate, because adults are not objective when it comes to their children's wishes. We condition our children to want what they want, and adults control the stores and toy companies. But the parents turn around and complain about the expense of the things their children want, and the economy only makes the stress worse. When every penny counts for food and gas, there is less gifts under the tree and the Salvation Army red bucket feels light. But the bell keeps ringing.
I was pleased to see the Toys for Tots box at my local grocery store full of toys. The Salvation Army also needs donated gift cards for older kids and teens who no longer play with toys. In my area, the hardship has doubled as parents try to dig themselves out of debt. No one wants to use credit cards to buy gifts, but so many people have no other alternative. I see it a lot at my job at K-Mart. A cashier was trying to help a female customer contact her credit card company because her card wouldn't go through. The woman had no other way to pay for her items. She was kept waiting on her cell phone for twenty minutes as she grew more impatient. She ended up leaving without paying.
Layaway becomes a nightmare at the store, the upstairs loft above the counter stuffed with merchandise. The Thanksgiving doorbusters sale and Black Friday were frightening and wonderful, because K-Mart decided to finally compete with the other stores(Wal-Mart), hopefully ensuring higher sales. Proof of an improving economy.
I also noticed customers, for the last few Christmases, who act as if shopping at a discount store for clothes is painful, shameful, compared to shopping at the malls or department stores. Name-brand, designer labels are in their past. Some accept this reality better than others. Some seem almost weepy, despondent. For God's sake, just give fudge or cookies. Make your kids wait until the clearance sales on December twenty-sixth for a pair of Adidas.
I was lucky, there were always toys under the tree for my brothers and me, even if my parents had to get a loan from the credit union. I was happy. My mother and father didn't have it so easy growing up, and they didn't want their kids to suffer the same disappointment. When she was in high school, Mom was called to the counselor's office. Mom was asked if her family was suffering a hardship. Word must have gotten around that Grandpa was laid off, so Mom answered yes, but she didn't consider it a big deal. On Christmas Day, there was a knock at the door. Someone from the Salvation Army dropped off food and candy. Grandma was quite pleased and grateful, but she never knew it was the counselor at Mom's school who reported their hardship. There were a few Christmases with no toys, but Grandma always cooked and baked pies.
Christmas can bring out old family tensions and hurts. Most people breathe a sigh of relief after the meal is eaten, the gifts are open, and the relatives leave. It's just too much stress for some. Bring on the booze. Every year, my family would go to my aunt and uncle's house for the annual Christmas party. It wasn't the season unless one of my aunt's sons got drunk and started fighting (using his fists) with one of his brothers or cousins. Every year, my aunt would say,"I'm not doing this next year!" But she would, because no one else had a finished basement.
Christmas makes some people desperate. Stealing becomes worse. I heard a story about a woman stealing packages from UPS off someone's front steps. Some people steal out of the Toys for Tots boxes. At K-Mart, a few customers were stealing coats by hiding the new coat, tags torn off, under their own coat. The new coat is sold on the street. Shoes, CDs, DVDs, video games, and clothes are also sneaked out of the store, the packaging found in the fitting room. I find discarded tags and boxes every day. Many of these people don't steal any other time of the year, just the holidays. The security guys have caught women stealing clothes for their children. I have co-workers who have asked the Salvation Army and other organizations for help, because minimum wage barely cuts it for staying above the poverty line. Employees also steal from the store.
I won't be spending a lot of money on gifts this year. I think that if a person is childless, like me, doing Christmas should be an option. Why should you spend your money on relatives you see only a few times a year? But these same people get pissed off when you don't give them a gift, even though you don't get a phone call on your birthday because they would rather be doing something else. Give and take doesn't always apply in terms of my family, although we do try to help each other. My brother fixed my car just recently without asking me for anything. I try to help Mom as much as possible, and I'm still trying to find full-time employment. I'm hanging on, like most people I know. The car breaks down, a tooth cracks, or you lose your job. The only thing that really bothers me in the store(besides the endless loop of Christmas songs) is when I hear parents and their kids fighting over the price of things. These kids are older, over ten years old. They've had plenty of time to get conditioned to believe that Christmas is their time to get what they want. Parents hate to disappoint their children, but this generation has experienced a different kind of poverty, not unlike that of the Great Depression. Maybe it's making them a little bitter. These kids are like an equal team member with their parents, knowing how much their parents earn and well aware of their standard of life. My mom used to show me her paycheck, showing me how the amounts were taken out for taxes and insurance. She took me to the bank with her. I watched her figure out the budget. She was the exception, because the kids I went to school with or knew as friends didn't know much about their parents' earnings. Many had single moms on ADC, supported by the state, but my point is that the Great Recession is shaping a generation of shrewd savers and bargain shoppers. These kids can't wait to get jobs or babysit or clean up yards and other little jobs to buy what they want. Some help with food and bills. Grandma and Grandpa pitch in, too.
Christmas can be a special time without spending money. Did that statement seem sincere? I hope so, but I'm still going to buy a gift for my mother and a few other people.
Maybe we'll get the Christmas tree out of the closet, really get in the spirit. :)