Americans have spent more on the holidays every year since the recession of 2008, except for 2012. This year, the average American is projected to spend $920 on gifts this holiday season according to a Gallup poll. The total Americans will spend is projected to be the biggest in history, topping one trillion dollars.

The trends in shopping behaviors have changed over that same time period with the majority of givers planning to do at least some of their shopping online. Most people that intend to spend big this season say that they will wait for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. This hints to retailers that those shoppers will be prone to overspending and impulse purchases.

The big money is not limited to gifts alone. With the season of feasting, baking, treats, parties etc., grocery retailers certainly get a significant piece of the holiday pie. My inbox is already inundated with special recipes, party foods, and ideas for baked gifts. Pinterest boasts sites for setting gloriously beautiful holiday tables, party themes and fabulous feasts.

Yet, with the rate of holiday spending, the charitable donations have increased at an even faster rate. Americans are the most generous people in the world. Americans give on average more than seven times more than European countries and more than double the amounts from our nearest neighbors in Canada. The vast majority of givers are middle income, with the mountain west region giving twice as much as the lowest giving region.

There are hundreds of children needing help. The basis for my first book was based on a story my friend Tami told me. She had a daycare she ran in her home. She had a 6-year-old foster daughter, (I called her Rocky in my book) whom they were in the process of adopting. The child had been so severely neglected that there was no possibility of her returning to her mother. For Christmas, Tami taught the children songs and they decorated cookies in anticipation of the daycare family party. It was all new to Rocky. Finally the evening came a week before Christmas. All the children performed the songs, performed a simple nativity and served the cookies and cocoa. The grand finale was that each child had a dollar-store gift wrapped under the tree for them to open at the end of the party. Rocky received a small rag doll.

Later that night, Tami went to tuck Rocky into bed. She found her waiting with her new dolly snuggled under her chin. “Wasn’t that a great Christmas!” Rocky said happily. Songs, cookies, a nativity play and a one dollar dolly made the best Christmas ever.

The one trillion in projected sales probably doesn’t include the widespread tradition of donating extra generously to charitable organizations. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters and nonprofit organizations are usually in special need as the weather turns cold and the needs of poor people become acute. Children in foster care often have special urgent needs. There’s no better way to celebrate all the plenty and comfort we have than by sharing it with those who have less.

I have heard of families that decided they didn’t need anything. They asked gift givers to donate money to feed the hungry, clothe those in need and to provide for the wants of those who can’t provide for themselves. One of my favorite charities is Operation Underground Railroad. It’s an organization that rescues exploited children from sex trafficking all over the world, including here in the USA. How glorious it feels to participate in freeing the captives from their abusers and oppressors!

I remember a year when we had $40 beyond our monthly bills and necessities budgeted for our Christmas spending. Our children were still young, so they were captured by the magic of the holy day more than by the awesomeness of the gifts. We bought small, inexpensive toys and some needed clothing. That holiday was just as exciting as years when we spent much more.

The best part of making a holiday budget is making conscious decisions about our priorities.

Americans are generous to families, neighbors and most especially to the needy.

Only in America, God bless it.

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