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Get Your Shift Together for the Holidays

Jul 18 4:39 pm

by Rachel Oldfield

“Losing sight of what’s important” during the holiday season is an oft-heard phrase. From having the wildest July 4th party to presenting the most elaborate Thanksgiving dinner possible to making sure the in-laws are impressed by your Christmas cheer, holidays and gift-giving can be warped from the warm, meaningful experiences they are supposed to be (examples here and here - Editors Note the 2nd link is to Amazon, but you can ask Harvard Bookstore to order if for you instead). The fact that most magazines feature cover stories with the words “holidays” and “stress” in the same headline around the months of November and December is a testament to the reality of this time of the year.

Yet usually when one refers to divergence from the true holiday spirit, it is in reference to a heavy focus on materialism instead of spending time with one’s family or appreciating what one already has. There is, however, more than one meaning of this idea. In some form or another, the holidays we celebrate all come down to the honoring of values – American or family, Christian or not. When we give gifts to our loved ones, we think of the joy it is bringing them. But do we think about the values are gift-buying is promoting, and the external impacts of these purchases?

The truth is, our gift giving and holiday preparation can celebrate these values, bringing joy and making a tremendous difference not just to the people for whom they’re intended. Where you shop also makes a difference for your entire community. Studies have shown that when you spend locally, because of the multiplier effect, more of that money will stay in the local community than when you purchase from non-local businesses. More of this money circulated regionally instead of nationally creates more vibrant local communities – more jobs, more money in economic activity, new entrepreneurial ventures – that can be woven together to form an economically stable nation.

The holiday season is extremely important for retailers every year, as revenue from that period could represent up to 40 percent of a retailer’s annual sales. Each fall the media floods the news with stories of predicted sales booms and busts, covering the one-month period between Thanksgiving and Christmas like it were the Super Bowl. And while chains and conglomerates have some wiggle room for “bust” holiday years, Local Independents (those are businesses that are privately held and locally operated) rely heavily on your patronage to stay in business and keep your community strong and dynamic.

If you already practice local spending or have not yet tried to make the shift, doing more of your shopping at Local Independents during the holiday season can be an easy and concrete way to contribute to your community’s economic wellbeing. And it doesn’t have to be hard – why not give your aunt a massage from a local spa, your dad a gift certificate to the nearby barbecue restaurant, or your niece a handmade bracelet from a local crafts store? I would rather get a gift certificate to Redbones than a pair of new socks any day. Plus, aren’t those unique gifts always the more memorable ones ?

As Americans all across the country join together in a spirit of cooperation and rebuilding, it seems that many are starting to recognize the importance of local shopping. Not only did cities where active Local First campaigns exist report a less severe drop in sales in 2007 than those without (3.2 percent compared to 5.6), but 95 percent of retailers surveyed said the fact that their business is locally owned matters to their customers (up from 82 percent in the survey the year before). Clearly more and more people are beginning to recognize the importance in choosing to shop locally. We invite you to become one of those people.

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