Seen So Far This Christmas Shopping Season…


Some random things I've observed in the first weeks of the shopping season. Nothing of great spiritual import, just interesting.

  • I've not done much shopping, but already I've noticed that almost every item on the shelves is about 15-25% more expensive than last year, especially if it's made of plastic. I suspect that this shopping season is the first one to reflect higher petroleum prices. Almost every toy that was $30 last year is $35 this year. One classic plastic toy I bought my son last Christmas sold at a regular price of $12.95. This year that same toy is $17.95. Same store, same time of the year, same exact toy.
  • Discount stores like WalMart are lowering their sales figure expectations, while more expensive department stores are seeing a 6% rise in sales over last year. Not many pundits are speculating on this odd discrepancy, but it fits with studies showing the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. If too many discounters have a bad selling season, expect to see them move upscale quickly. I know that Costco continues to upscale their offerings. Now I buy about two-thirds fewer items from them than I did just ten years ago. Aldi, here I come.
  • Who are these people who buy giant battery-powered vehicles for their toddlers to drive? I saw a Hummer model selling for $300. Are you kidding me? The American savings rate is in negative numbers, but people are buying $300 Hummer replicas for their kids to drive around in?
  • Over the past decade, I've purchased most of my Christmas presents online. In nearly every case, I found items online for significantly less, even with tax and shipping figured in. This year, though, the brick and mortar stores seem to be beating online stores in average price.
  • When I was a kid in the Sixties and early Seventies, Spirograph held our interest for years. We had a Super Spirograph kit containing a half dozen ring and bar templates, plus a couple dozen circles, crosses, and even "rotary engine"-shaped pieces to go inside/outside them. I probably cranked out a couple thousand Spirograph pictures over the life of our kit. So this year I go looking for a Spirograph for my son, only to find a scaled-down abomination: one tiny circle template and some weird ovoid, plus about a half dozen circles. What a bitter disappointment. So I check eBay and the best Spirograph kits are going for $50+! Hasbro seriously missed the boat on this new "Deluxe" Spirograph. Way to mess up a perfectly good, inexpensive plaything.
  • Prices for digital cameras jumped right before Christmas. Companies bumped their $200 models to $250 by adding features no one will ever use (built-in sepia tone, anyone?) Canon replaced the excellent Powershot A620 with the A640 and jacked the price $60 for no real reason I can discern. Bah, humbug!
  • Board games seem to be coming back into vogue—and that's great. (Unfortunately, most stores stock the same boring ones everyone's played. Honestly, does anyone find Monopoly fun?) For a break from the ordinary, check out Boardgames with Scott. Scott Nicholson's premise is one of the best uses I've seen for online video snippets: introduce people to new games and demonstrate how they're played. I'd love it if Ticket to Ride (America) showed up under my Christmas tree this year.
  • A pox on toy manufacturers who play up some electronic gizmo with plug-in cartridges one Christmas, then a year later you can't find the cartridges anywhere.
  • I spotted only one Salvation Army bellringer so far. That's sad. They've got a fantastic series of commercials and print ads this year, but the number of bellringers goes down every year.

Sorry if this post appears Grinch-y. I'm usually done shopping by Veterans Day, but this year I can't seem to get into shopping like I once did. Growing up, my family saved all shopping for the year for Christmas, so presents swamped the tree. I'm used to taking hours to open gifts.

This year, though, I'm distracted. I see so much need around me. It's so easy to buy, buy, buy and miss the people whose Christmases will once again be sparse. I think about the elderly people who would much rather have their family pay them some attention than to toss a gift their way one day and ignore them the other 364. Or single parents struggling just to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.

I'm watching more than participating in the six week consumer bonanza that makes up the majority of yearly spending in this country. Frankly, our own Christmas promises to be a little thin this year. Don't know how I'll square that with Christmases fondly remembered, but I still have room to grow.

I believe God's desiring that all of us receive less and give more, thinking outside the bunkers we call home to the less fortunate tucked in the cracks of the world. We got the ultimate gift in Jesus. I pray we don't forget to offer His gift of eternal life to everyone we know.

18 thoughts on “Seen So Far This Christmas Shopping Season…

  1. Re the electric vehicles: the answer there is “grandparents.” For his second (IIRC) Christmas, my mother gave my son an electric Beetle, and my husband’s mother gave him an electric Indian motorcycle. That was also known as “The Year The Grandparents Were Told They’d Better Clear Presents With Each Other *And* With The Parents Next Time.” Because there was *clearly* an arms race developing.

      • He’s the only grandchild on both sides. The grandmas were VERY ENTHUSIASTIC the first few years. I solved the problem by inviting grandmas to come clean his room a few months before Christmas, and try to figure out where everything goes.

        Nowadays, he gets lots of school clothes and books, and a lot fewer toys. And the upside is that he’s entirely comfortable with giving away anything that isn’t one of the very few things he treasures (and selection of treasured items is generally not at all linked to cost).

  2. You said “I believe God’s desiring that all of us receive less and give more, thinking outside the bunkers we call home to the less fortunate tucked in the cracks of the world.” Amen! That truly resonates with me this year, as well, thanks, to a great extent, to the inspiration I have received at Cerulean Sanctum. Blessings in abundance!

  3. Thanks for the shopping tips. Since I always do my shopping late in the year, you’ve saved me some time. This will be a slim year for us as well, but since it is our son’s first Christmas with us there is no “past tradition” to live down. Maybe the “slim Christmas” will be the norm as we seek to help others more.

    It is hard to go spend a lot of money on your family when you have so much stuff already. When my mother-in-law asked me what I wanted for Christmas I could only think of three or four things and then I drew a blank.I don’t have room to store any more stuff anyway. We are so blessed in America!

    • Don,

      I got pumped about “Baby’s First Christmas” only to realize that itty-bitty kids would rather chew the paper the present came in. Christmas doesn’t get that eye-popping response until about 2.5 years old.

      I have no problem buying gifts that meet real needs. You’re right, though: few of us have real needs that can be met by a wrapped present.

  4. Dan, our family LOVES Ticket to Ride. Our adult son also bought the European version and it is fun as well as educational. Board games and jigsaw puzzles have brought the warm, fuzzy, family-all-together-around-the-table feel of Christmas back to our family. Can’t recommend them highly enough. Catch-Phrase is another good game. Lots of laughs, and a good icebreaker if you’re playing with guests you want to know better.
    Wishing the Edelens a very blessed Christmas!

    • Deb,

      I’m not surprised your family’s boardgame fans. I grew up in a boardgame-playing family and loved those times around the kitchen table playing something interesting. When I was a teen, summers off were spent playing Avalon Hill tactical wargames like Panzerblitz and Squad Leader. We’d play one game for days.

      I see Apples to Apples on the shelf everywhere now, but I got that game several years ago when no one had seen it. Everywhere we took it, people later rushed out to buy it. We were like evangelists for the Apples to Apples.

      Our closet is stocked with games and I hope this year to finally institute a quasi-evangelistic board game night that runs at our house once a month. That means stocking up on games most people haven’t seen before, like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Wits & Wagers, Why Did the Chicken, and such. Unfortunately, those games aren’t found at Target, nor are they ever discounted below that magic $20 price point. We’ll see. Things are tough this year.

  5. Rick Beckman

    I work at Walmart as a toy department manager, but after reading this post I am compelled to simply say, You are my hero.

    I work in the toys because it keeps a roof over our heads, but I don’t think I’ll ever live to see the day when things like $250+ ride-on toys make since. And toys which require cartridges (or refills, for that matter) have been something I’ve disliked since I was a child. Sure, it’s fun for a few months, but what happens when you need more smoke-filled bubble solution for your Ninja Turtles bubble-dropping jet toy? Great toy which I woulda played with for several more years with my action figures, but of course they want you to buy the next big thing each year rather than perpetuating those you already own.

    They are the grinches, if you ask me.

  6. Dan,
    Amen to all you said.

    Don’t forget about the asinine practice of camping out in front of Best Buy for a week just to get the latest technolgy toy.

    My apologies to any of you that do that. But, I do have to ask: What do you do for a living that enables you to have time to do that?


  7. CS reader

    When our kids became teenagers and we could no longer afford the gifts on their lists, we quit giving gifts for Christmas (the siblings still exchange gifts and they get little gifts in their stockings on Christmas morning). But instead, we gave them money in envelopes which they could add to whatever cash they got from grandparents. Then, one day between Christmas and New Years, when everything is on sale, the whole family makes a day of shopping together (no lone rangers…we all help each other spend our money – though sometimes boys and girls split toward the end of the day to save time). We end our day by going out to eat in the fanciest restaurant we can afford that year. The highlight of the day, and what has become our favorite family tradition, is secretly leaving a $100 bill as a tip for our server. We always pray that the Lord will send someone to wait on our table who really needs the cash, and we have a rule that, tempting though it is, we must make a quick get-away and not stay to wait and see the server’s reaction. (We also pay for our meal with cash so we can’t ever be tracked down and thanked. We wanted to teach our kids to give without expecting anything in return.) Like I said, it is the highlight of the holiday season for us.

  8. AlieraKieron

    On point 2: To be precise, Walmart’s figures are down. Most other stores are up. It’s not just that the “poor are poorer and the rich are richer”, although I’m sure there’s a bit of that there: it’s that Walmart has now managed to offend and upset everyone. Most people I know are uncomfortable with their overall business practices, and some are downright hostile. (And it’s not who you’d think, either: the biggest hater of Walmart I know is a girl from the UpNorth in Wisconsin who saw her entire town whither away when the big box moved into town and shut down all the local businesses while paying minimum wage.) People just don’t see it the low, low prices as such a good deal anymomre.

  9. I stopped giving Christmas gifts several years ago. The concept behind it is so worldly, the competition and expectations so full of sin and corruption as to be choking. So is that being a grinch? I personally think the greatest gift I can give is to be in the service of God every day of the year. To go more deeply into debt each year just to appear approved to others, even if that is one’s family, is just stupid. So dump the false pretence of “giving” and jump on the bandwagon of “serving”. It is cheaper, more fulfilling, and doesn’t get thrown in the trash because it doesn’t break. In the meantime, reserve Christmas for what it is, a day to give praise and honor to the child of God who came to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

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