For some, Christmas this year will be a little more quiet
The Christmas season is a stressful time for parents eyeing their stacks of unpaid bills in one hand and their children’s wish list in the other. In many instances these parents won’t be able to purchase presents for their children, but that doesn’t mean their holiday will be any less festive.
Crystal, 21, is a Cape Coral resident who left her home this year because of a family dispute. Like many who are experiencing financial woes, she turned to the Lee County Department of Human Services.
After living in a shelter for two weeks, Crystal was set up with a condominium and vouchers for furniture and household items, but her next concern was making sure that there were presents under her 3-year-old daughter’s tree this year.
Retail shopping accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy, but less disposable income and a high rate of unemployment has shown that many are struggling to simply pay the bills. More than 20,000 people across Lee County are out of work.
Last month the National Retail Federation stated that sales are weak because more customers are focusing on staple items and not on the luxuries indicative of the Christmas holiday.
Crystal, who still has her job at Cape Coral Hospital, said she entered the hospital’s Adopt-a-Family program. Employees in each of the hospital system’s departments adopt a family for Christmas and purchase $50 worth of presents for their children.
“In my case I was adopted by one of the ladies who was working at Lee Memorial for 15 years,” she said. “We spend Christmas Eve with the adopted person.”
Later on Christmas day the hospital will hold a holiday dinner for employees like Crystal and their families who won’t have their own meal for whatever reason.
Depression is a major issue during the holidays. Some parents are feeling depression and guilt for not being able to afford gifts, especially when they have young children who expect presents from Santa Claus.
A survey released on Wednesday by the American Psychological Association found that 61 percent of Americans attributed their greatest holiday stress to money. Other sources of anxiety came from the pressure of gift giving, limited shopping time and worries about debt.
According to Dr. Leslie Seppinni, a psychologist and mental health columnist, parents feel a lot of guilt and shame for not being able to provide for their children during the holidays.
“Certainly we haven’t seen times like this since the Depression where everyone was so affected globally,” she said. “Everyone is interconnected and we are in an emotional depression.”
In tough times there are two types of people, she said. One is a group pretending that the economy hasn’t sunk and continues to accumulate debt on their credit cards, while the other will sit down and explain to their kids that they simply don’t have it.
And for younger children who believe in Santa Claus, Seppinni said that parents can buy small ticket items and wrap them individually. Or buying one present that is unique to a child’s personality and another large present for the entire family to share.
“They care more about the fun of the family and ripping open the paper,” she said.
Another option is starting a family project where families work together or volunteer in the community.
“Tell your kids we are starting a new tradition and it is more about family quality time than it is about material things,” said Seppinni.
There are other options for families who have had to tighten the financial belt. Local thrift stores operated by The Salvation Army or Goodwill are low-price alternatives to shopping at more expensive retailers.
Toy drive programs such as Toys-for-Tots and Christmas Cheer also collect donated toys and dispense them to needy children for Christmas, but many of these programs require pre-registration. Jacquie Williams, spokesperson for The Salvation Army of Lee County, said more than 3,100 people registered for Christmas Cheer.
Parents can also contact the United Way 211 to find out if there are any other charitable toy opportunities.
Buy Nothing Christmas, a religious organization, advocates that families make their own gifts such as recipe books, books on tape, hand-made soap or framed art. Their campaign is trying to end the pattern of over-consumption during the holidays, but their ideas offer an alternative for families who can’t afford presents this year.