Volume 14, Issue 48 ~ November 30 - December 6, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

I Remember Christmas

We’ve sacrificed Christmas spirit to the Nasdaq

Our first priority is [to] preserve existing local traditions so we can continue to build in the future.

—Macy’s spokesman Jim Sluzewaki as quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 25, 2006.

Sorry, Jim, you’re a year late and more than a dollar short. How dare you talk about preserving local traditions?

Isn’t Christmas a precious local as well as national and international tradition? Also, as I recall — and correctly — wasn’t Macy’s the big force in taking Christ out of Christmas last year?

No wiggle room, Jim, I looked it up. There it was in a year-old clipping from The Wall Street Journal. Also, some other daily sheets including The Sun.

But multitudes who read the papers didn’t let the big department stores off the hook so easily. They didn’t want the Christ replaced by an X as in X-Mas — or, equally disturbing — that period between Black Friday and Dec. 25 referred to as just “the holidays.”

This scribe was among them.

Good Old Christmas

Until last year, at Christmas time for the previous 35 years or more what shopping I did (and not once on Black Friday or the Net) involved buying gifts for wife Lois and something for the kids and grandkids either at Macy’s or Nordstrom. I figured their prestigious names — in addition to their creative gift-wrapping for husbands like me who can’t tie a ribbon — would score a few points for me Christmas morning.

No more.

Returning from deer hunting in Western Maryland, I stopped at Macy’s at Marley Station Mall, chose one gift, had it wrapped and charged it to my credit card. But when the saleswoman wished me a happy holiday, I passed the credit card back to her for a refund. When I returned home, I cut up the card; the pieces went into File 13.

I had been a Macy’s faithful for more than 38 years, starting when the cards were issued under the Bamburgers name. When Macy’s first arrived in Baltimore at White Marsh Mall, I was engaged at their grand opening to cook rockfish in their kitchen wares department. The divorce was not amicable. Not on my part.

Am I presumptuous in thinking if Christmas is taken out of the Christmas season, that much if not all of the ambiance of the season is lost?

Think of Christmas shopping not too long ago. Some department stores had more than a Santa Claus or two, Christmas carols played inside and outside the stores, train gardens, decorated evergreens and other greenery was everywhere — as were nativity scenes. Sales persons wished one and all a merry Christmas, and outside were the carolers of the Salvation Army and/or the tinkle of the bells of that charity’s Santas standing by the big and familiar iron pot hanging from a tripod.

Did not the merchants whose greatest gift of all is ringing cash registers realize that when the true and contagious spirit of Christmas prevails, shoppers are swept along, and the cash registers ring even more?

But many of the Ebenezer Scrooges learned a lesson from the backlash.

Wal-Mart’s spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone is quoted in the daily press: “This year, we’re not afraid to say Merry Christmas.”


Profits Play Grinch

Yet things this Christmas season are not back to normal. The big news is not primarily on the spirit of the season, shopping and such. Instead it is on gross sales and their impact on the economy; almost makes us feel guilty that we didn’t spend more on Black Friday. By not doing so, we’re ruining things on Wall Street.

Those who shop are more than subtly reminded that they didn’t spend enough on opening day of the shopping season. By not increasing their spending, those who play the market — whether directly or via various cookie jar and retirement funds — saw Wall Street stocks stumble.

Several days ago, we learned that because Wal-Mart was 0.1 percent off, the Dow dropped 158 points, the Nasdaq, 54. Translated: By not buying more we are endangering our investments. Even the Grinch can’t top that for Christmas skullduggery.

We can’t win; by spending more, our budgets go out of whack, which makes those who deal in plastic dollars happy. By spending less, our gross worth is less.

To throw us a bone, the big merchants have put some Christ back in Christmas — reluctantly, and after learning the hard way they can dictate only so much. And get this: Because Black Friday sales were only up nine percent in electronics, among the top of the Christmas gift market, Wall Street is playing Chicken Little rather than the more appropriate Santa Claus.

The very credit cards many Christmas shoppers plop down to pay for their gift giving are another weak link in the chain. Seventeen percent of all buying year ’round is done by plastic, which of course heartens banks and other lenders.

But when they don’t meet their profit goals, the stockholders get upset, and they find ways to get even via higher interest rates and an assortment of penalties that would shame even Scrooge.

Good Old Christmas Spirit

Maybe it’s because I’m ancient and recall the days when shopping was fun, even though limited, in the Great Depression when my budget was a buck for 10 gifts. But the way I see things, we need more Christmas spirit back in Christmas and less big business pressuring us to buy beyond our means and budgets.

You know, not once did I ever hear my mother sigh with relief thank God it’s over when the last of the meager Depression Christmas shopping was done. She enjoyed spending what little was available for the five Burton kids — and with the only currency stores accepted at the time: Cash.

When we shopped, carolers sang, Santas rang bells and manger scenes were on display. Today Christmas shopping starts earlier than ever and continues until either time or credit runs out. But, methinks it’s not as much fun. Enough said.

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