Lowering holiday expectations in a poor economy

While the lights on the Christmas tree were dulled by the economy last year, it looks like the holiday season won’t be shining quite as brightly this year, either. The struggling economy closed wallets across the country as people shopped for gifts last year. While the recession was declared “over” back in September, this year’s pile of gifts under the tree still won’t be very large.

One of the reasons for that are the still-felt ramifications of the nearly two-year-long recession that the country is still experiencing. With the current unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, the highest since 1983, many families simply cannot afford the heightened expenses of the holiday season.

The other reason lies not within the consumers’ funds, but instead in the retail business itself. Stores are not stocking their shelves quite as fully as they have been in past years, basing this year’s merchandise orders off of last year’s difficult holiday season. This means that less product is available for purchase – and stores are running out of stock fast.

This leaves the American public with two options – either get your Christmas shopping done well before Thanksgiving or relax and recognize that it’s not all about the gifts.

Naturally, our material-centered society would rather work itself up into a frenzy and choose the former option rather than the latter. But while that may be the majority’s choice, it doesn’t have to be yours. Recognize that the holidays are about more than just presents under the tree. They’re about drinking your weight in spiked eggnog and watching hours of claymation classics on ABC Family. At least, that’s what the holiday season means to the average college kid.

The average college kid isn’t usually the person buying and giving the gifts, primarily for two reasons – one, too broke, and two, too lazy. But that doesn’t mean the college-aged individual isn’t affected by this year’s lacking Christmas bounty just as greatly as the haggard parents and screaming toddlers out there. Consider this – with stores ordering less product, there’s a much smaller chance that those Ugg boots you want so badly will still be on the shelf when Mom finally gets around to shopping for them. Or what about when Dad finally meanders on over to the local Target a few days before Christmas, only to find that “Call of Duty 6” sold out back in October? Sorry, but that means you’ll be finding a lot less under the tree this year.

But before pouting about the inevitable disaster that will be Christmas morning 2009, consider all of the other luxuries that the holidays provide the typical college student. You get to sleep in your own bed for a month, hang out with your family, and maybe catch up with a few friends from high school. No homework, no studying, no endlessly poring over textbooks again until late January.

Of course, there is a much deeper meaning to the holiday season than just gifts. Even if you’re not religious, it can be universally agreed that the holidays promote goodwill. Take the opportunity to volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate coats and other cold-weather gear to families in need or offer to shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk.

While the recession is over, it’s obvious that the holidays will still be hurting for a while. This year, focus more on the holiday experience and less on the material goods wrapped up under the tree. I think you’ll find that this Christmas will be just as merry as you make it.