Holiday spending for people who don't celebrate Christmas

Shoppers carry shopping bags.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Judging by the crowds I saw out there as I was finishing up my shopping this morning, it's going to be a fine holiday season. The National Retail Federation predicts sales are going to rise 3.3 percent higher than last year. But then again, not everybody's going to be celebrating tomorrow. And I don't just mean the live-simple-and-don't-spend-anything types. I mean, people who don't celebrate Christmas and so don't give gifts or spend pots of money going out at this time of year. Or don't they?

We asked Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman to find out.


MITCHELL HARTMAN: The Christmas muzak -- the jingling cash registers -- it's not music to everyone's ears.

JESSE DAY: My name is Jesse Day and I'm a Muslim here in the Portland area. Most Muslim families, they're almost unaware of the holiday itself.

Day, though, is a recent convert. His wife is Christian, the kids are being raised in both faiths.

DAY: I just got out of Value Village. I was doing Christmas shopping. So admittedly I've bought them Christmas gifts.

Retail analyst Patty Edwards says stores can pretty much count on the Christmas consumption spirit spilling over to many non-Christians. Roughly 5 percent of Americans identify as Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu. Another 10 percent have no religion.

PATTY EDWARDS: Regardless of whether or not they are celebrating Christmas, the fact is that the sales and the deals that are available are better than the rest of the year.

Richard Young, who is Baha'i, will give a few gifts to his wife and kids.

RICHARD YOUNG: Just because it's that time of year and it's sort of a cultural thing. In total, maybe $100.

Though that's a far cry from the $650 the average Christmas shopper will spend. It's hard to find figures for Hanukkah gift giving, though many Jews are also spending more. Including for Christmas dinner, as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan famously quipped.

ELENA KAGAN: You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.

It's often where my Jewish family ends up because it's the only thing open. And it's not just a Jewish thing. Patty Edwards remembers growing up, her grandmother worked retail, and got home late on Christmas Eve.

EDWARDS: My dad and my grandfather would put all the kids in the car and pick up the Chinese food just as grandma was coming home. And interestingly enough, Santa Claus always came while we were gone.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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