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Tess Vigeland: Usually by this time of year, retailers are riding high – anticipating big profits – and complaints about the commercialization of Christmas start to fill the air. This year, not so much. Consumers are cooling their heels to see how low prices will go, and Santa’s list is most likely a bit shorter this year. Commentator David Frum thinks a little more hoopla might be just what the doctor ordered.
David Frum: Unless you’re skiing, who likes snow at Christmas? Cold, wet, slushy — and by the way, entirely alien to the experience of Mary, Joseph, & baby Jesus in their Mediterranean manger.
Still, if you’re stuck on a Pacific atoll in World War II, well you don’t have to be Irving Berlin to notice that under those circumstances, a “white Christmas” will be exactly what you yearn for.
Everything is relative. A couple of years ago, at the top of the mortgage bubble, you could feel a little nausea at the consumption on display in the local shopping malls. Americans were tapping their home equity to buy 104-inch flat-screen TVs or to buy the fully-loaded sports coupe at their auto dealers’ holiday sales events.
It was not only the very religious who muttered that Americans would sometimes do better to remember the reason for the season; back then, a little less materialism seemed just what the doctor ordered.
Well, if anyone ever made that wish, it has come true. Retail sales have slumped. Shoppers are staying out of stores. Pollsters are reporting that more Americans are planning home-made gifts: toffee instead of Tiffany’s.
Yet it is hard to celebrate this return to Depression-style.
Adversity is not as good for the character as advertised. Nobody tramples security guards to death in a rush to pay retail. In bad times, donations to charity drop. The bells of the Salvation Army ring in vain; the U.S. Marine Corps’ calls for Toys for Tots go unheeded. We hear daily of friends and neighbors who have lost jobs, homes, and retirement hopes.
And we begin to think: maybe a big part of the reason for the season is the universal human need for a bit of fun, a splurge when the days grow short. Maybe gifts aren’t symbols of consumerism run amok, but also occasions to bring joy to those we love. Maybe, in this tough year, it’s not only merchants who are dreaming of a commercial Christmas, just like the ones we used to know.
Tess Vigeland: David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is called “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again.” Want to share some holiday spirit? Go to Marketplace.org and click on “contact.”
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