The Present Christmas

I remember the time when those planning on doing their Christmas shopping had no choice but to psych themselves up for a battle in the shopping centres of the world; mixing with other well-willed gift givers and spending as much time waiting in queues as actually selecting presents. Engaging in the madness of the weeks leading up to Christmas has always been part of the tradition, along with the promise to oneself that next year, we’ll save time and money buying everything in the January sales and keeping it in the cellar until the following Christmas. That never happens, of course, and most everyone I know still waits until the pay packet at the end of November before venturing out to find perfect presents for colleagues and loved ones. Yet despite lower prices and less stress which has been made possible in recent years through online shopping, people still seem intent on heading out into the snow to join the throngs of fellow shoppers on busy streets.

This year, the thought of having to spend so much money on Christmas has been made alternately easier and more difficult by the state of the world’s finances. Sales, once an annual special treat in January with tales of people camping outside popular shops for the best of the special deals, are now year-round events. In the U.K., many leading stores are desperately attempting to make their profits by slashing prices before the end of December and encouraging people to continue with the highly commercialized aspects of Christmas. In the U.S., the Christmas shopping season was opened with the tragedy in November of a man stampeded to death as leading budget chain Wal-Mart opened its doors early. Even online retailers such as Amazon have slashed many prices early, with the U.K. online store having opened its January sale ahead of Christmas.

The Swiss seem to have maintained a positive outlook for Christmas 2008, despite the downturn in European finances which has reached as far as national banks such as UBS and Credit Suisse. This may well be down to the fact that the financial exchange rates with European countries are so favourable right now: the Swiss Franc hasn’t been so strong for as long as I can remember, making both direct purchases from abroad and commercial imports more profitable. It will be interesting to read post-Christmas reports of how many people have chosen to do their Christmas shopping online and see how the global recession has affected the most commercial time of year.