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A look back at Christmas 2008

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Amidst the dire forecasts of a global economy headed for the toilet, contrasting against the heart-warming election of an African-American to the United States presidency, Christmas 2008 was a particularly hard one for some of the earliest victims of the current economic turmoil.

But there is always a way to turn anything into something positive, and so was Christmas 2008 for some of these people. MacLean’s reported on this in a very interesting article:

The recession that saved Christmas, by Ken MacQueen and Cathy Gulli

Lean times, some find, are connecting them to the real meaning of the holidays

You’d have to go back in Audrey and Owen Freeman’s lives to the Christmas of 1964 to find a time such as this—when bleak circumstances should doom the spirit of the season to wander lost in a fog of loneliness, dislocation and worry. It was their second Christmas together. They lived with their infant daughter in a bare apartment in Toronto—a city so foreign to Audrey that when she moved there from the outport of Carmanville, Nfld., she says: “If I had been going to the moon at the time, I wouldn’t have been more scared.” Owen was laid off just before Christmas. There wasn’t a spare cent once the rent was paid. They were too proud to tell their parents so they resigned themselves to a Christmas without presents, turkey or tree. “We were young and in love, I suppose,” says Audrey, “so we were willing to put up with most anything.”

Two days before Christmas, a trunk was delivered to their apartment, unannounced. Audrey’s parents had stuffed it with decorations and gifts; with candy, fruitcake and nuts; with a tiny red velvet dress and a stocking full of the things little girls love. There was a letter inside, too, and a cheque for $100, because there was no room in the trunk for a tree and dinner with all the trimmings. And so a Christmas that seemed destined to be marked with tears was instead celebrated with weepiness of the happy sort. Tears became a Freeman holiday tradition as three more children, then spouses, and then eight grandchildren joined the fold, all settling into communities near the Freeman’s home in Ajax, Ont. “If anybody walked into our place Christmas morning,” says Audrey, “they’d think we were all very sad.”

Sad? Not at all. But the biggest test of that comes this Christmas. Owen lost his job last winter after 37 years with a drugstore chain, forced into early retirement in part by illness. In all, he spent three months this year in hospital. With finances tight, the Freemans reluctantly sold their home in Ajax, and moved back to Carmanville this October. “I guess you could say we’ve come full circle,” says Audrey. “The economic downturn has affected us in that we had no choice but to move halfway across the country in order to survive on our small pension and limited savings.”

They aren’t alone in planning this year for a lean holiday season. World markets are in turmoil, retirement savings are gutted. The economy of Canada, like most of its global trading partners, is in decline. Consumer confidence, the Conference Board of Canada reported in November, fell to its lowest point since the brutal recession of 1982. And no wonder: some 71,000 Canadian jobs were lost last month, the largest drop in 25 years.

(…)

Obviously for many this will seem a diminished holiday born of fear and debt. And yet, with tough times comes an opportunity to reimagine the holiday. There are many who see this as the recession that saved Christmas, a chance to scale back the spending and search out the optimism of our inner Tiny Tims. What is Christmas, after all, but the willing suspension of disbelief? There is much that can’t be measured by leading economic indicators, or by money in the bank or the lack of it. For the Freemans, the standard for all the Christmases to come was set in the hardship of 44 years ago. “We are fortunate in that we started to cut back on spending and realize the true meaning of Christmas long before we were forced to,” says Audrey as she readies their home for the holidays.

This year, they face the prospect of a first Christmas far from their children, like many families this recessionary season who will be unable to spend as they are accustomed to on presents and travel. The Freemans are determined to make the best of it, saying it gives the children, now in their 30s and 40s, a chance to start their own traditions. Their gift-giving has never been extravagant. (…) The family will watch each other open their presents Christmas morn via a Skype computer video link; (…). The Freemans will then dine with Audrey’s cousins in Carmanville, where they will toast their good fortune and Owen’s improving health. “He’s doing really well,” Audrey says. “We’re very thankful just to have each other, and to be able to celebrate Christmas at all.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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