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Holiday Spending
How Much is Enough?

Americans spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year celebrating holidays including Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Halloween. Let's put this spending into perspective.

According the recent reports from the National Retail Federation, here's how the US holidays rank in terms of spending habits. (I've rounded the figures to the nearest tenth of a billion to keep things simple.) The per person figures are rounded to the nearest five dollars and represent the amount spent by the "average consumer." The figures are estimates for 2006/7.

  • Christmas (Hanukkah and Kwanzaa) $457 Billion / $800 per person
  • Valentine's Day $14 Billion / $116 per person
  • Mother's Day $13.8 Billion / $115 per person
  • Easter $12.6 Billion / $110 per person
  • Father's Day $9 Billion / $100 per person
  • Halloween $5 billion / $60 per person

Note: Thanksgiving spending is impossible to track separately as the weekend is included as the beginning of winter holiday spending.

Placing this in perspective, American citizens donated $260 billion to charities of all kinds in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available. (Source: The Giving USA Foundation.) Also, the US government, according to various estimates, budgeted about $17.29 billion for non-military foreign aid in 2006. In other words the amount spent by the US government in foreign aid to the entire world was less than American citizens spend celebrating Mother's Day and Father's Day. And the amount spent on winter holidays is greater than all charitable giving combined.

What conclusions can be drawn from such comparisons? At the time of the tsunami disaster, some suggested that the US, and other industrial nations were "stingy."

I dug into the statistics: Are Americans Stingy?

Arguably, one can't spend too much in expressing love for one's mother or father, and celebrating holidays like Christmas and Easter are worthy activities for Christians to budget for, generously. It's not that spending $115 on mom, or $800 on family and friends at Christmas is extravagant for most Americans ... far from it. The issue is whether American Christians invest adequately in caring for the "far neighbor," those who are not connected by blood, or by proximity, and whose need is very, very great. Also, it may be sobering to note Americans spend more on celebrating the winter holidays than on relief and recovery for the victims of disaster in their own coutnry, such as hurricane Katrina, which left large neighborhoods of New Orleans totally devastated, remaining so even today!

In the end, the ultimate test of the Christian conscience is how we respond to those in need ... near or far.

For more on Christian and other holidays, and what they mean.

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.