Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

This Christmas it's hoo, hoo, hoo

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There was a time when the holiday season was mostly about religion. Now, it's mostly an economic indicator tracking retail sales. And I say to heck with it.

World stock markets did a happy dance last Monday when it was announced that U.S. retail sales jumped 16 per cent from last year's tally, setting a record. Black Friday is the Friday after American Thursday Thanksgiving when retailers hope the start of pre-Christmas sales will change the ink in their ledgers from red to black.

Not everyone was happy with the sales figures. Derek Holt and Karen Cordes Woods of Scotia Capital said they don't take into account the record hours that stores were open and the deep discounts some retailers were forced to offer.

Cyber Monday, which comes right after Black Friday, saw online spending pass $1 billion for the first time. With black this and cyber that, it's obvious we have a whole new set of holidays. Christmas, Hanukkah and other religious celebrations are disappearing from popular view.

Lack of cash doesn't prevent some Canadians from joining the new holiday celebration. A Canada Trust survey shows 43 per cent of them buy presents on their credit cards, up from 29 per cent in 2008. About 48 per cent of them say they exceed their holiday budget before the holidays arrive.

One reason for the credit card use is that paycheques are not keeping up with the cost of living in Canada. Statistics Canada says the average Canadian wage declined in September -- 0.3 per cent to $872.75 a week. In Manitoba, the decline was even more pronounced -- 0.6 per cent to $811.74

Retailers of sporting goods, hobbies, books and music have sales of $1.67 billion in December, compared with $886 million in the remainder of the year, says Report on Business. Electronics and appliance stores sell goods valued at $2.15 billion in December and $1.06 billion from January to November.

Canadian retailers, worried by the number of customers who go south to shop, are trying to unleash a Black Friday in this country, even though we don't have a holiday weekend, "I think it's completely disgusting, because it just means U.S. consumer values are now really affecting us," Vanessa Delzingara, a Toronto teacher, told The Canadian Press.

I share her feelings. That's why I've decided this year to look after some wild animals.

My gifts will allow my children to help a Canadian animal that's in trouble. I'm getting the gifts through Nature Conservancy Canada, which is dedicated to preserving and enhancing our wilderness.

It's not going to work. I've tried this before. One holiday season, I made it possible, through a Mennonite organization, for my children to give goats to poor Africans. Another year, it was outdoor toilets. My children were not impressed, basically because they, like many of us, are besotted by commercialism.

Their motto: "I give you a gift, and you give me a gift, preferably in pink."

I'd be delighted if my children gave me a paper that said I was helping animals with problems such as the saw-whet owl in Manitoba, the grizzly and the critically imperilled Newfoundland marten.

I gave my sister, a rancher/teacher in north-central B.C., an owl. She has a barn, and she has owls. But she took some delight in wandering into the barn and shouting at the hooters: "I've given to your union. Now I expect you to catch more rodents." I sometimes wonder about her sanity.

I have to confess that filling out a form and a cheque for the Nature Conservancy or other charities is easier than being jounced around by surging mobs of desperate humanity in shopping malls. I admit it: I'm a lazy do-gooder, the most insipid kind.

I don't care. Next time I meet a tiny northern saw-whet owl, I can look into its sad, saucer eyes and say: "Hey, little guy, I'm trying the best I can." -- without going too far from my easy chair.

Tom Ford is editor of The Issues Network.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2011 A10

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