Does a Bad Economy Equal a Sad Christmas for the Kids?

I was perusing the news sites yesterday, when an article caught my eye. All I want for Christmas: A Job. Right below the article title was the following quote:

This holiday season, there will be more workers competing for fewer jobs. ‘It’ll be a sad Christmas for my kids,’ said one job seeker.

My thoughts automatically went to children whose families would be faced with losing their homes. Families who couldn’t afford clothing for the children. Or medical care. Children in poverty, because their parents didn’t have an income.

That’s not quite what the article was about.

People Competing for Holiday Retail Jobs

The article focused on people who are competing for seasonal retail jobs. But it didn’t focus on people who are out of work completely. Instead it focused on people who had lost some hours at their jobs and were hoping to pick up extra hours in retail establishments during the holiday season.

I can understand people wanting to do that. When you grow accustomed to a certain level of income, and part of that income goes away, I can see trying to bring the income back up.

But then the article quoted a woman who has a good job, but her benefits have been cut. Her husband has a good job, but he lost his overtime. Both spouses have applied for part time second jobs. To which the woman said,

Neither of us have heard back about anything. It’ll be a sad Christmas for my kids, I guess.

I’m hoping CNN left out a big part of the quote. In this economy, most people are happy just to have a single job this Christmas.

Is Christmas About Money and Presents?

I love giving my kids great gifts as much as the next person. When my kids received their Wii for Christmas last year, I enjoyed seeing the huge smiles on their faces.

But is that all Christmas has become? An opportunity to spoil our kids with material things?

In the course of a lifetime, the economy is bound to cycle through lean years and years where people can afford to spend more. The availability (or lack of availability) of money shouldn’t make or break a wonderful Christmas.

I have written before that my family had very little money when I was growing up. One year I received underwear, yes underwear, for Christmas, because I needed it, and that’s where the money had to go. And yet, I cannot remember an unhappy Christmas. We celebrated the birth of Jesus. We spent time with extended family. Christmas was just in the air, and we reveled in it. It wasn’t a sad time, even though we didn’t have a lot of money.

In the grand scheme of things, a meager Christmas isn’t a crisis. A sad Christmas is a family celebrating for the first time after the recent death of a father. A sad Christmas is a family celebrating from a homeless shelter, because they don’t have a the money to afford a small apartment. A sad Christmas is one in which a child with a terminal disease has to celebrate from a hospital bed, knowing this may be the last December they live to see.

Perhaps I’m sensitive about this because my son and I are reading The Family Under the Bridge for school. Yesterday’s reading included the homeless children taking a trip to see Father Christmas. When asked what they wanted for Christmas, the oldest child declared she wanted a home. The middle child wanted food. And the youngest wanted a simple doll.

There are children in America who would be happy to have simple things like food, a house, or a single doll. Even though this might be a meager Christmas, please keep it in perspective. It is one year out of many, and a child not receiving the latest hot toy this Christmas will not ruin his life.

Make the most of this Christmas, despite a lack of money. Sing Christmas carols as a family. Watch the Christmas specials that come on TV. Go to a Christmas performance put on at a local church. Look at the Christmas lights. These activities all build great family memories, and they don’t cost a thing.

What do you think? Can you have a great Christmas, even if money is super-tight?

Photo by di_the_huntress.


By , on Oct 15, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Bekah:

    My husband lost his job two Christmas’ ago, and we decided to head back to school. Although we are young and our two boys are young we feel Christmas has never been about the gifts, we celebrate the birth of Christ. We are both attending school, and neither of us are working, so let’s just say we have no money. But we budget wisely, and do Christmas shopping simply by a poem I found (can’t remember where) but it is:
    Something they want
    Something they need
    Something to wear
    Something to read
    That’s it. So our gifts are centered around this and we don’t have huge Christmas’, but we enjoy what we get and how we spend our holidays together.

  2. Leslie:

    I read that CNN article and thought the same thing. We have also suffered a dramatic drop in income, but this Christmas we will be thankful that we still have our home and can live within our means.

  3. Lorie:

    While listening to the Dave Ramsey Show today a SAHM called in wanting Dave’s opinion on her getting a part-time seasonal job so that the extra money could go toward their debt. It didn’t sound like this family NEEDED the money but at least she wants to get the job for a good reason – not just so her children could have a better Christmas.

  4. Lorie:

    My dad passed away when I was 12. Every Christmas after that my mom would warn me that there may not be many gifts under the tree. But I was NEVER disappointed! Now that I’m grown with children of my own, things have been VERY tight since I quit work to stay home with them, going on 4 years now. Their first Christmas they didn’t get anything from us because we knew the grandparents & other relatives would buy them more than enough. After that first year they get one main gift, not an expensive one, MAYBE one other gift & their stocking. We might do a little more for them if there weren’t any grandparents around doing a lot for them but it wouldn’t be much more. Children need their parents time not toys.

  5. Deb:

    When my brothers and I were little, my family lived in The Middle of Nowhere, Nebraska and my dad was a pastor making $13,000 a year. This however did not ruin our Christmas the least bit. Our most memorable Christmas was when my parents were the poorest they have every been yet we were showered with blessings. For two weeks my dad spent extra time at work during the evenings and built my brothers beautiful lock boxes with their names on them, and for me a huge doll house! All out of wood from the junk yard. I think my dad spent about $15 on all the gifts and each one of us still have these items and hope to keep them forever. I remember another Christmas where my parents received free duffle bags from somewhere and gave those as gifts to us….we loved them! I even still have that! I think kids just need to know their loved on Christmas and as long as they know that, the joy will follow.

  6. With the Dow back to 10,000 and tons of people getting paid up this year, we’re in an absolutely recovering economy now.

    Kids should be pretty happy this holiday season!

  7. Bette:

    I liked your post. My family will have a lean christmas this year because my husband is unemployed, but we will put up our decorations, have a nice dinner and enjoy the day anyway. The fact that I have a home and people to share it with is gift enough for me. Our money troubles have been a blessing for our child. She understands when we cannot get her toys and even offers to give us the money in her bank when we need to buy things. What more can I ask for.

  8. Donna:

    I also saw that write up and felt sick that the woman interviewed was so narrow minded………too many others out there who could really use a job just to survive now/never mind expensive Christmas gifts for anyone. Hopefully she wakes up before it is too late and gives thanks for what her family has and then shares some of it with the unfortunate.

  9. I think I would rather have time with my family than gifts.

    My older brother died in June, so we have all agreed not to exchange gifts this year. We will all go to church Christmas Eve together (my church has a great candelit service.) Then Christmas day we will have a dinner together.

    I will get my boys three presents each (like Jesus got.) they love adventures in Odyssey, so the are each getting a new set. They also are each getting a foam topper for there beds (they actually want this, because they love mine.) I will get them one more gift each and I think it will be tickets to Sight & Sounds Christmas show. We live about 3 hours from this theater in PA. The plays are put on by a Christian group and are amazing (I have already seen a few.)

    We are going to make a few gift as thank you for our co-op teachers and Sunday school teachers.

    But mostly we will read the christmas story nightly in Dec., bake cookies, drive around and see lights, and stay in.

  10. Meghan:

    We were a bit poor when I was younger. There was always enough food, shelter and clothing so I don’t classify us as truly poor. So my parents really focused on the gift GIVING aspect of celebrating Jesus’ birthday. I really don’t remember specific things I got for Christmas but I sure do remember the excitement leading up to giving presents to my siblings and my parents. For months leading up to Christmas, we’d all be rushing about hiding stuff with giggles of ‘you’re going to LOVE what I got you but you wont know what it is until Christmas!’. The traditions we created are what I remember, not the misc gifts I received.

  11. Ruth:

    I read The Family Under the Bridge to several of my classes when I was teaching third grade. Great book! In our family we try to be frugal without being too “cheap,” since I think some of the people we exchange gifts with (mostly in my husband’s family) spend more on us than we do on them. My MIL had some sad Christmases growing up, and I think she’s just happy to be able to give more now. I can understand; I fall into the same category. We just try to be thoughtful in our gift-giving, and hope that our nephews are appreciative of what they receive and what they have.

  12. Pam:

    I agree with all the above and I also can’t help but ponder the question that if they both have full time jobs… shouldn’t they save the part time seasonal jobs for people who are unemployed and really need it? Seems kind of selfish in this economy when I know several family members who are unemployed and would gladly work part time at Walmart for Christmas if only they had any openings.

  13. Marj M.:

    Things do not make a person happy. Granted, most children think of gifts and Christmas as going hand in hand. Bring back the true meaning of Christmas. Homemade gifts, family, all the things you suggested. That is Christmas to me. My Lord first and foremost.

    Why not take children aged 6 and up to a shelter or Salvation Army to help serve food. Sometimes seeing others in a state much worse than theirs makes a young one realize……..they have it pretty good if they live in a house and have food. A 2nd job???? Be glad you have one.
    I sincerely hope most folks (all is too much to hope for?) will attend a worship service and feel the warmth and love church can bring.

  14. Angel:

    Thank you! :)

  15. Drew:

    The silver lining in the recession cloud may be that more kids learn the true meaning of Christmas this year. It’s more than ripping open the boxes to see “how much I got” from Santa Claus.

  16. Hebmily:

    My family is not really religious. Christmas for us means a time for family and (moreover perhaps) a chance to give my artist mother to let her creativity explode. Christmas is half-jokingly referred to as our “celebration of trees” because of the effort mom takes in decorating trees. We don’t do gifts, because we all have everything we need. Instead, we donate to the charities of our choice.
    My husband’s family on the other hand, are agnostic/atheist, but absolutely love the gift-giving aspect of Christmas and go all out. Philosophically, I find it a bit odd because I’m just not sure what exactly they’re celebrating.

  17. Jenne:

    Thank you for this post.

    My daughter received underwear from my mom (her grandma) 2 years ago, and wrote about it in her school journal: “I got underwear from Santa. It was crazy! Who knew Santa gave underwear?” LOL ;)

    This year, we are hosting my husband’s extended family (40+ people) and wanted to have something under the tree for everyone. I came up with the idea of making copies of family photos for everyone. I found small gift boxes for free through Freecycle, and using a service like Snapfish or Shutterfly allows me to get lots of prints for very little money. Right now, Shutterfly sent me a code for 50 free 4×6 prints – yahoo!

    Photos are easy to store, and something priceless that cannot be replaced once a person is gone.

    Must find that book – would love recommendations on other ones good for Christmas as well.

    Last year, my daughter and I read one story a night from “Chicken Soup for the Soul” one of the Christmas books (I don’t remember which one, but we’ve had for several years). She seemed more appreciative that year.

    Love hearing what everyone else does for Christmas traditions!

  18. karen:

    Excellent points. I also grew up in a poor family, and my favorite part of Christmas was the big family gathering, complete with all of the cousins and a couple of dogs. Now my children say that their favorite part of Christmas is the Mexican fiesta we host at our house on Christmas Eve.

    I read The Family Under the Bridge when I was in first grade, and it has stayed with me all these years. My (homeschooled) children volunteer at a food pantry, and it is because I am aware of situations like that fictional one.

  19. Kim:

    We will be having a lean Christmas this year – gift wise – because of lingering unemployment. To offset this, we will be enjoying other aspects of the holiday season – decorations, good food and spending time with one another.

  20. AngelSong:

    I believe strongly that Christmas has gotten far too commercial. My husband and I entertain family and friends at Thanksgiving in an open house with a large meal, but we choose to keep our Christmas private for just the two of us. That does not mean we do not purchase gifts for family and friends, because we do…without going overboard about it.

    Lynnae, I have tears in my eyes as I write this, because your point about “sad Christmases” hit home. In 1983, my grandfather died on December 22, and we had his funeral on the 23rd. None of us felt like celebrating Christmas that year, but we did spend time together as a family. I have also spent Christmas in the hospital as a child facing or recovering from surgery. So, yes, I know about sadness at Christmas.

    To me, Christmas is not about gifts and spending…it is about the birth of our Lord, and a time to be mindful of the greatest Gift of all time.

  21. Andrea C.:

    My family grew up on a modest income and I consider us lucky that we DIDN’T always get everything we wanted, because learning to deal with mild disappointment and learning to share what we do have with others builds character, which last a lot longer than that cool toy. My husband and I give the money we’d spend on each other for Christmas to our favorite ministry instead. They have a catalog of “gifts” you can choose from. Since I was pregnant with our first child last year, we gave the money to provide a newborn care package (blanket, diapers, etc) and a sonogram for a pregnant refugee woman fleeing a war-torn Afghanistan. This year we have our precious new baby and we’ll buy her a few things, but we still intend to pick from the catalog again this year for our gifts to each other. I just read where we can donate to buy cans of formula for a baby =) Here is the link to the catalog if anyone else is interested. My husband and I give to this ministry because we personally know the people involved and we know the money we give will be used for what we intended it for.

  22. Growing up, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and my dad was a fireman. There were four kids. I remember we also got what we needed. My mom shopped the outlets and was always watching for sales. Now I am a mom, and right now, my son is only 19 months old. I have purchased things on clearance and at the consignment shop as well as yard sales. He doesn’t know the difference, and I plan on always shopping this way. It doesn’t have to be new…and Christmas is about family first and being together. If you can all be together- that is great!

  23. Trudy G.:

    Excellent article and way to put the celebration of Christmas in prospective! Too many people obsess with the materialistic. Personally I try to make the best of the ENTIRE season not just one single day that could be ruined by a bad cold (which has happened to me!). We have many traditions in my family that revolve around being together not spending money that are spread out over a month’s time such as the grandkids coming together to decorate my mother’s tree one evening followed by a holiday movie of some sort; baking Christmas cookies together; going to church programs; etc, etc, etc.

    Throw in several other traditions from deer rifle season that’s starts the Monday after Thanksgiving and it is a continuous, enjoyable month plus around our home – with the only expenditures being for food that we would have spent any ways.

  24. This is a really great post! When we were growing up, my family was pretty poor, but I never had a sad Christmas. My fondest childhood memories are of waking up with my brothers on Christmas morning and getting all snuggled up by the tree, whether we had one present or many.

  25. Christina:

    I feel the same way you do. What hit me the most is that these parents are getting second jobs so their kids will have a “good Christmas”…wouldn’t you think the kids would rather have their parents around instead of working all the time? Children value quality time above material possessions…it’s in their nature. But our materialistic culture is trying to change that, and it’s a shame!

    • You said exactly what I planned to say. You can give your children things or your companionship. Having YOU singing carols or hanging a garland with them is far better than them sitting in front of a TV playing some video game while you’re off at your 2nd job in order to pay the credit card bill you ran up to buy the game in the first place.

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