Christmas about more than gifts

Normally, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when retailers cheer. Stocking up on their goods like packrats, they prepare for the onslaught of shoppers.

In good economic times, retailers are easily able to sell their products and routinely even run out of that year’s popular “must-have” item.

This year, obviously, things are a little different. In an economy where people are forced to be more frugal, sales at Wal-Mart are going up, while sales at luxury retailers are declining sharply. This was one reason why Black Friday was just as popular as ever – so popular, in fact, that a Wal-Mart employee in Staten Island, N.Y., was actually trampled to death trying to subdue the crowds.

But let’s not forget what the holidays are supposed to be about. Giving a gift is, of course, a sign of goodwill and thoughtfulness. But at what point did consumerism take over the holiday season? A long time ago, apparently – as the tradition seems to be firmly ingrained in American culture just as much as baseball and apple pie.

The latest economic crisis is a reminder of what happens when people buy things they think they need that they can’t afford. Americans need to rethink whether that must-have toy is really a necessity, especially when they are paying with plastic. Maybe it’s time for Christians to rethink what Christmas should really be about. It’s a celebration of Jesus’ birth and the lessons he teaches humanity about loving your neighbor. During a recession, donations to charities remain stagnant, as people realize that in hard times, there are more people out there in the world who could really use a handout.

There is a great organization called Kiva that provides micro-loans to the poorest of the poor in developing nations who want to expand their farms, start small businesses and participate in the market economy, but are unable to get a normal bank loan. Kiva is a nonprofit organization and does not make a profit on any of the loans it facilitates. Kiva offers gift certificates that you can give to a family member or friend for the holidays, and the recipient can select a beneficiary on the Web site. After three years, your donation is actually returned to you after the loan has been repaid, and you are then free to loan that money to someone else. Unique gift ideas like these could really make a difference in someone’s life, and it’s very easy to do.

Matthew Rosson is a sophomore prebusiness major from Lincoln, Neb.