On November 23, the Pier 39 Christmas tree, standing 65 feet tall and adorned with 400 glistening ornaments, 500 bows and 2,000 twinkling LED lights, was lit to a crowd of around 400 spectators who came from all parts of the city, the United States, and around the world. Following its annual tradition, the ceremony represented the beginning of the holiday season. Despite the current slump in the economy, the audience brought a feeling of cheer and optimism to the Pier reminding everyone that despite their dwindling financial stability, relationships and community are what provide the basis for a successful holiday season.
The holidays have long represented a time for shopping madness and trips to Santa’s lap to respectfully demand what one wishes to see under the Christmas tree. What differs this year is that many families are finding themselves unable to provide such elaborate gifts, causing a reevaluation to the true meaning of Christmas.
Doris Landry, a Continental Airlines representative, traveled all the way from Ohio to attend the tree lighting ceremony with her son. “This is my Christmas present for myself. I usually spend every Christmas in San Francisco with my son but flights were so expensive already for December that I had to come earlier just to see him,” said Landry. “Everything will be turned upside down this year. I’ll be alone on Christmas, and that is the fault of the economy.”
Even college students are feeling the pinch on their travel plans. USF student Danny Sherman, a sophomore communications major from Camarillo, Calif., usually spends the holidays with his entire extended family. This year things have changed. Sherman said, “Normally our whole family flies out so we can all be together but now it will just be our immediate family celebrating.”
Along with travel changes, families across the United States will be scaling back on the presents. Brady Marsh, a ski lift operator in Tahoe, brought his wife and three daughters to the lighting ceremony in hopes to see Santa. “I just hope they don’t ask for a Wii, or an iPod, or anything else that is hip and cool right now,” said Marsh. “My wife and I have already planned that we will only get two presents for each girl and together they have to cost under $200.” What Santa was soon to find out is that Lindley Marsh, Mr. Marsh’s eldest daughter, would want what any other 10-year-old girl would want: an iPod Touch.
It is hard for this young generation to understand the effects of an economic downturn. Generally speaking those under the age of 25 have lived fruitful lives under the wings of hardworking parents who prospered in a time where employment rates were high and the consumer market was booming. It may come as a shock for them when their Christmas wishes, whether it be iPods, Nintendo Wiis, laptops, clothes, or cars, could be put on hold until the trend of pinching pennies is over. Or maybe the true meaning of the holidays just needs to be relearned.
Students at the University of San Francisco are bringing a positive attitude to the negative economic effects on the holidays. Nikhil Jain, a junior business major from Pleasanton, Calif., plans to continue with his normal holiday traditions: tree lightings, family gatherings and delicious dinners.
Jared Frazer, a junior media studies major from San Jose, Calif., said that his family “will not necessarily be affected by the economy for Christmas time in the sense that we don’t put a large emphasis on presents. Being an Italian family, we focus mainly more so on the food side of the holiday.”
Even with tight budgets, families are pulling together to help each other out so that their number one priority for the holidays can be achieved: family time. Kayla LaCour, a freshman from Kansas City, Mo., has already felt the spirit of holiday generosity from her family. LaCour said, “I didn’t think me and my family would be able to go down to Louisiana like we do every Christmas but some people chipped in and now we are able to. I just know not to expect many presents.”
Of the students interviewed, all shared the same credo for the holidays: it is about family, not the presents received, that make the holidays special. Tiffany Gresham, a junior business major from Los Angeles, Calif., said, “Each Christmas we do a lot of family activities with each other. We won’t be so much affected by the economy in the way we celebrate because the holidays are more about family and being thankful.”
For most, with the idea of elaborate presents now seen as only a side note to the holidays, family time, relaxation, and traditions are what brighten their thoughts on the upcoming holidays. Pelenaise Tapaatoutai, a freshman from Foster City, Calif., explains that there is nothing that can change her attitude toward the holiday, “The holiday season, to me, is family time. It’s a time when you can get together with your family and friends, and spend quality time with one another. I do enjoy the gifts, however the time I get to spend with my family and friends is more important.”
This feeling of family was ever apparent at the lighting ceremony on Pier 39. Many families were standing together, singing Christmas tunes with the entertainers, and waiting patiently for the Christmas lights to be illuminated. At 5:30 p.m. the 2,000 lights were lit and the entertainers got the entire crowd to join in song to the melody of “Let it Snow” while fake snowflakes fell upon the smiling families and friends, happy to welcome the beginning of the holiday season.