The nation is trying to pull up its bootstraps after one of the worst recessions in recent history. Unemployment has exceeded 10%. Home foreclosures have been in the millions. More people are relying on food banks and soup kitchens. Some young Americans are spending their Christmas in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others seem to be wasting their young lives. There are continuing terrorist threats. Fear and uncertainty haunt many about the direction America is heading. At times, the public square seems to be washed free of any acknowledgement of God.
This may not be the happiest Christmas for many Americans.
Or could it?
We asked Register readers how all of this is affecting them.
Like many Americans, apparently, some who responded to our survey said they are giving fewer gifts this year, either because of financial circumstances or because they wish to discourage the young people in their lives from materialistic attitudes toward Christmas.
Said reader Linda Siebens, “We have pared our Christmas way back, maybe 3/4 of normal. We are helping our kids see that we have way more then we need and others are far shorter. For the second year we will buy toys for tots instead of sending gifts to cousins.”
“I asked my sister-in-law and my brother to exchange gifts with the children only and not to give us gifts,” said Nancy Brandolini. “Our gifts to others have definitely taken a more practical turn this year, such as a new car battery and four new tires for my sister-in-law and warm, comfortable clothing for my parents and brother.”
The Brandolinis are carrying two mortgages because they’ve had to move into a “larger, more accessible home” for the sake of an ill father-in-law “while still having to sell our first home,” she said.
“The children are receiving inexpensive but hopefully still enjoyable gifts,” Mrs. Brandolini said. “We are also intent on building (hopefully) priceless memories with the children through simple play, cookie baking, art projects, snuggling before our hearth, etc.”
Said Mrs. Brandolini, “Our family and financial concerns definitely threaten to distract us from Advent and preparation for the coming of Our Lord, but we strive for that all the same.”
Concern for children seemed to be a common theme in readers’ responses. Kathy DeWine, of Knoxville, Tenn., said she has been working for a long time to restore a simplicity to Christmas celebrations like those of her childhood in the aftermath of World War II. She was one of three young children of a widowed mother at that time. “We were blessed with a mother who was from Spain and whose memories of Christmas celebrations were significantly different from the American model,” she said. “Primarily Christmas was a religious celebration, with processions and festivals around the Birthday Child and the Holy Family and a special Christmas cake. The Epiphany on Jan. 6 was a special occasion, especially for the children, as they would place their stockings or shoes out for the Three Kings to drop little gifts of coins and fruit in to surprise them. There was also a special little cake for that occasion. The rest centered around parish liturgies and prayer.”
It was difficult for her mother to “adjust to the different expectations here,” she said, “but since we had little money, she simply did the best she could with what she had.”
Today, in these lean times, her prayer is that God will show people how to celebrate “the abundance of lives colored by faith, hope, charity and gratitude. And to do the best we can with what we are given.”
Abundance was on the mind of Pat Morand, managing director of the SWMF Life Science Fund in Kalamazoo, Mich., but a different kind.
“Jesus promised us abundant life, as we know, which doesn’t always reflect a material overflow,” he said. “In fact, that abundance includes less cash to make way for more of Jesus in our hearts.”
Steve and Sally Paulin are hoping to instill something of that spirit in their four grandchildren. Illness and the downturn in the economy have affected the Paulins, but they’ve found blessings amid all the struggles.
“We came close to losing our home but used up what little was left in my husband’s retirement account to save the house and pay off medical bills so we are without bills other than our mortgage and utilities,” said Sally. “This is a blessing. It’s a stretch to make it, but we’re hanging on with the help of God and the strength of our love for one another.”
The younger of their grandchildren will receive fewer gifts than usual, and the oldest, a 13-year-old, will receive a card indicating that his grandparents had made a donation to a local children’s charity in his name. “I’m sure it will create a stir, but that’s okay,” Sally said. The children “truly enjoy listening to the story of the birth of Jesus and learning about the Advent candle and prayers. We feel it will make for a memorable season and one that will make a difference later.”
Indeed, it may well be a memorable Christmas for many people this year. Whatever your struggles, know that the Holy Family had the leanest Christmas in history, relegated to a bed of straw. And yet, what a gift they gave us.
From all of us at the Register, a very Happy Christmas to all of you. We are grateful to you for your support throughout the year. We assure you of our continuing prayers for you, especially at this special time.