By Harriet P. Gross
A bad holiday season for commercial enterprises is well behind us. A good thing, too! But Next Chapter Press, a Florida book publisher, has found the silver lining in that down-market time. The company recently conducted a poll whose results tell us there might be hope: Some Americans — many, in fact — actually value gifts with real values attached more than, and even instead of, those usual, anticipated material items and “traditional” trinkets.
For example: While 48 per cent of our fellow citizens reported spending less on holiday presents in 2008 than in 2007, a resounding 84 per cent ranked things bought with money as a poor second in the gift-giving department. The favorites of these folks: Experiences that brought their families together topped their lists, followed by something thoughtful and personal that they’d never have thought of themselves — not necessarily anything at all from their annual, dream-filled “wish lists.”
One of Next Chapter’s authors, Jennifer Liu Bryan, explained: “History shows us that American families bond during tough economic times. The gifts people most enjoy are spending time together, sharing memorable experiences and creating traditions.”
Well, at my house, we have created our own new tradition for Chanukah. On the last night, when eight family members around the table were happily complaining about having eaten too many you-know-whats, I broke out the Jones Chanukah pack, with cane-sugar-sweetened soda in four holiday flavors: Latke, Applesauce, Jelly Donut, and Chocolate Coin — all with a valid rabbinic seal of approval, of course. I passed out little liqueur cups and we poured out tastes in turn.
The Latke flavor was what you might expect from a soda infused with a try at potato pancake taste: just awful! But who cared? The fun was in downing our little thimblefuls together, raising the glasses with a hearty “L’chaim!” beforehand. Then things improved, on a steadily upward climb until we reached that delicious chocolate peak — another “L’chaim!” preceding each new swig, of course. Meanwhile, the cat played with the dreidel enclosed in the package, and the out-of-town grandsons packed up the decorative empties to take home with them, for what they plan as a permanent display.
Asking before the onset of the December shopping season, Next Chapter sought the answer to this question: Considering the current economy and your own personal financial situation, do you plan on spending more, about the same or less on holiday gifts this year than you would normally spend? Less than 4 per cent admitted that they would lay out more, while almost 48 per cent said less, most definitely less. Holding the line were some 45 per cent who thought their costs would be the same.
But while over a fifth of the respondents said the best gift they ever received was something they’d asked for and truly expected to get (and I might honestly put myself in that category, remembering my joy when I opened a much desired multi-drawered jewelry box and a much requested pair of black leather dress gloves with inside-seam stitching, back at Chanukah 1963 — and I still enjoy both of them to this day!), almost 61 per cent reflected on the past and realized that something totally unexpected had really been the very best.
About 52 per cent of our friends and neighbors who celebrate Christmas said that reading together as a family was their best holiday experience of all. While most of us Jews probably don’t read the tale of the Maccabees together at Chanukah the way those others share their nativity story, we do sing a lot! And as People of the Book, we can surely agree with this statement from the Web site readaloud.org: “Reading aloud as a family will not only deepen bonds during the holidays; studies show it also improves children’s reading ability — and that is a gift that will last a lifetime!”
So let’s look ahead to Purim, and not just dress up, sing and distribute mishloach manot — but also read the Book of Esther at home, out loud, together, as a family.
(For the record: Next Chapter Press publishes illustrated, family-oriented books focusing on the history of American families; its most recent offering started out as a little story destined for distribution at a family reunion and turned into a happy holiday tale for children which has inspired may other families to write down their own memories. Its survey was conducted by McLaughlin and Associates, a national polling research company which asked the questions of 1,000 individuals across the United States.)
By Harriet P. Gross