Jolly Santa Claus with his sack full of presents, fat round snowmen wearing scarves, and conifer trees decorated with shining stars and snowflakes. These are images that evoke the Christmas season. While there are many different races and cultures in the United States, almost all Americans celebrate Christmas. Whether they go to church to celebrate the birth of Christ, put up an impressive light show on the outside of their houses, or simply leave milk and cookies out for Santa, each household has its unique way of commemorating the festive season.
Deck the Halls
For retail businesses, Christmas is an opportunity to push through high sales numbers and reap much-needed profits in the otherwise sluggish economy. This is particularly true for certain industries, such as Christmas greeting cards or live Christmas trees, which are completely dependent on the holiday season. The holiday shopping season can start as early as October in the US, as people purchase gifts for friends and loved ones as well as trinkets and decorations in preparation for festive celebrations. According to reports, the average American forks out approximately $850 on Christmas gifts and spends approximately 15 hours shopping for them. The holiday shopping season has been estimated to account for a quarter of all personal expenditure in the US and up to 30 percent of total sales income for retail businesses.
Despite the financial difficulty, economic uncertainty, and pandemic threat, retail sales over the Christmas season of 2020 defied forecasts by reaching a record 8.3 percent growth and hitting the $789.4 billion mark. This was more than double the usual 3.5 percent growth achieved in the previous five years. Most notably, there was a significant surge in the proportion of online sales, which breached $100 billion for the first time in November last year. The total sum of online purchases in the US over the 2020 festive season was a staggering $188.2 billion, registering a 32.2 percent growth from the previous year.
A combination of stimulus checks, flexible payment options such as ‘buy now, pay later’, and free shipping helped to coax shoppers to part with their dollars in spite of financial pressure from the pandemic. As people stayed home and turned to online shopping for their holiday needs, retailers who embraced a variety of delivery and pick-up choices saw stronger sales as shoppers valued convenience and safety over the experience of browsing in brick-and-mortar stores. For consumers who made their final purchases in physical stores, over 60 percent did their research online before hitting the tarmac to spend less time in crowded places. E-commerce activity has been on the upsurge since the advent of the pandemic and is expected to continue through to the festive season of 2021.
Jingle Bell Rock
On all accounts, things are getting better in the US. Vaccination rates are rising and large numbers of people are returning to work as the country seems to be emerging from the shadow of the pandemic. Consumer confidence has remained progressively buoyant since early 2021, fueled by the improving labor market, a recovering economic situation, and an optimistic outlook for the upcoming months. To be quite honest, everyone has become weary of the doom and gloom of the pandemic and the depressing news reports that come with it. The Christmas season is a perfect excuse for Americans to welcome the festive spirit, spread cheer, and escape from the pressures of real life for a while. The holiday is also an essential break that allows people to focus on a vital part of their lives—their loved ones.
One of the most heartwarming and memorable moments that brought light to Christmas last year was the announcement by the World Health Organization that Santa Claus was immune to Covid-19 and would not be deterred from his global gift delivery duties. Indeed, the demographic most enamored by the Christmas season is undoubtedly our children, who view it as a truly magical time. While social distancing measures may have done away with the traditional Santa grottos, children can still receive a letter from Santa with a ‘nice list’ certificate to make them feel special and loved. Similarly, many retailers have accepted the challenge of keeping Christmas alive for the children through creative online experiences such as digital candy cane workshops.
Looking at the numbers, it is clear that the pandemic may have affected the economy on the whole but not America’s tradition of celebrating Christmas. In fact, it could be said that the pandemic has made Christmas cheer ever more important as people find joy and comfort in seasonal revelry. While the commercial aspects of Christmas have been criticized by some, the sentiment behind gift-giving cannot simply be reduced to gratuitous consumerism. Although this Christmas may be less boisterous than pre-pandemic times, people will still have a good time by cherishing relationships, showing appreciation for loved ones, and evoking the wonder of childhood.