Saturday, December 6, 2008

No Virginia, There Isn't a Santa Claus: Relevant Parenting Holiday Angst

We hold these truths to be self evident, all children are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, education...and toys. Nothing quite says hard times, and cuts a parent to the quick, as when they struggle to put a few coveted toys under the tree for their kids during the holidays. Although the seasonal barrage of advertisement and marketing is a time honored tradition, tough economic times just inspire embattled manufacturers and vendors to ratchet it up.

Guilty parents are crying "uncle," and imploring marketers to lay off the heavy marketing of toys directly to their children this year that they are simply unable to afford. It is also suggested that the reprehensible behavior that spawned sensational headlines and tragic outcomes in this year's Black Friday crush, were in part caused and intensified by these feelings of guilt, disappointment and a desire to provide these material comforts amidst difficult circumstances. In sum, snagging that doorbuster prize became a do or die proposition, literally.

While not all feel such desperation to satisfy their children's holiday wish list, many mothers are volunteering that they are at least foregoing presents for themselves in order to be able to provide for their children. This is troubling news for retailers, since the women's sector of the holiday shopping season is significant.

Also, in uncertain times parents are mining their own childhood for comforting, and somehow more simplistic pleasure. The nostalgic toy market is hot this year. Ken Moe of says, "It's instinctive in tough times to reach back to a happier, simpler time," he said. "Parents remember how much they loved those toys, and want that same happiness for their children."

Some parents are starting to think outside the box as well, and take advantage of rental services, such as that cut the cost of toy commitment, and allow parents to cycle high quality toys through the household, and return once the child has tired or outgrown it. What they do buy has to be highly value added, well reviewed, and multi-task, such as games that teach one how to cook.

Many parents worry about excessive materialism, security while shopping, and basic toy safety considerations, since new toy safety standards do not apply to the current crop of toys on the shelves, but take effect early next year. Therefore, many of these parents are shopping online and searching for deals, as well as scrutinizing what they do buy on sites such as to check their safety, and buying less and higher quality selections. Or, they are returning to hand making their gifts. These parents are expressing a desire to dovetail their environmental priorities, with their desire to achieve a commercial free holiday.

Yet others are hardly shopping at all, turning to more spiritual and community based activities such as gifts to those in need, or works of service, and involving their children, to underscore a less material basis for the holidays. They are also picking up classic Christmas stories to offer "messages of hope, faith and togetherness during an intensely uncertain year," according to William J. Palmer, an English professor and Charles Dickens expert. But don't look to the Disney versions, says a Catholic clergy in the U.K., who has cautioned his parishioners to the evils of Disney, which he claims, "pretends to provide stories with a moral message, but has actually helped to create a more materialistic culture."

What may turn out to be the hot gift of the season after all will be web cams from grandparents, and extended family that no longer travel due to the downturn, or the increasingly hellish travel experiences that are becoming all too common. They still want to visit, if only virtually.
Door busting tragedies aside, Holidays 2008 may be proving that parents can be resilient, savvy and creative. It remains to be seen if there will be a robust supply of cookies waiting on Christmas eve this year. It turns out that even Santa gets downsized.
Photo Courtesy of

1 comment:

Betty said...

This has been a terrible year economically for this country, and I agree that Christmas marketing seems to be more hyped up this year and that they should be encouraging more family time, helping others, etc. It saddens me. :(

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