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A Different Kind of Christmas in Michigan

by: LiberalLucy

Thu Dec 11, 2008 at 13:36:10 PM EST

Growing up in the Metro Detroit area, there were good times, and then there were tough times, but my family still managed to always have Christmas that included plenty to eat and gifts under the tree.

Some years, that required my dad to work three jobs and my mom to work two, not to mention raising three kids, one of which was chronically ill (me) often times paying up to 25 different medical bills a month. Somehow we always got by, and now as adult, I can only imagine the financial juggling act that occurred with a mortgage, car lease, bills, groceries and the like.

After he was laid off from the Buick plant in the late 80's, my dad took on a side job as a pizza delivery man to help supplement the family's income. As a pre-teen, I remember being a little embarrassed seeing my dad don the company hat and come home smelling like a pizza oven. I'll never forget my mother admonishing me, "Be proud that your father is able to work and support his family, that's more than some people can do." I had really never thought about it like that before, too young to understand how dire the circumstances actually were.

This year is on track to be one of the toughest years for most Michigan families, including my own in the last 50 years. My mom starts her new job today, after being unemployed for the better part of the year, while my dad tries to not let the frustration of his own unemployment get the best of him. In addition, I have an uncle and an aunt who are also both without jobs, and my own sister walks into her job each day uncertain if she will be included in the latest round of lay-offs. 

Even with all this, my family is among the lucky few this holiday. When Christmas Day arrives, there will be gifts under the tree, and there will be food on the table, but certainly not to the extent there was in years past. Instead of everyone getting gifts for everyone else, we're drawing names. We're cutting back on the type of food and the quantity we're serving, and clipping coupons and checking sale ads before making any purchases. 

A recent report from the Michigan Non-Profit Association shows a dramatic increase in the demand for support, while financial and in-kind support for these same organizations has dropped significantly. The reasons will come as no surprise to any of us: the economy, fuel costs, foreclosure rates, and cuts to the state budget.

LiberalLucy :: A Different Kind of Christmas in Michigan

We know this economic downturn isn't solely a Michigan issue, but with Congress unable to decide whether or not they're going to let our entire state go bankrupt, we're certainly turning into Ground Zero for a nationwide trend that's scary at best. 

On the spending side of things, Mom has pleaded with us kids not to use our credit cards to buy any gifts, because it's better to not have gifts at all, if it means you have to go into debt to do it. It's something she's instilled in us from the day our first piece of plastic arrived in the mail, and something I make a practice of continuing to do. 

I'm one of the lucky ones with a job, and I can't tell you how painful it's been to watch my family, particularly my parents struggle, to the point I actually feel guilty for having a job when they don't. This isn't the way it's supposed to be. Of course, how often during the last six months have we heard ourselves saying that about so many other things? 

When I was in college, it wasn't unheard of for my mom to send me back to my dorm or apartment with groceries after a weekend home. Now I'm the one trying to subtlely chip in where I can, always respectful of my parents deep pride, but constantly aware of how wrong this whole situation is.

Gone are the days of the job for life dream, gone are the days when a job automatically meant good, or at least decent benefits for you and yours, and gone are the days of economic security and confidence. 

Many families across our great state are tightening their belts and feeling the pinch of the wallet. Just like our parents and grandparents did before us when the last great economic depression hit, we too will get through this. It's supposed to be the season of good tidings and cheer, and even though we're probably all going to have a leaner holiday season, it's important to remember the real reason behind the season - doing for others. When you can, put an extra dollar into the red kettle outside of the grocery store, donate a pair of gloves or a scarf, or dig out those unused canned goods to those who might otherwise go without. 

The old saying was right, what doesn't kill you does make you stronger, and as my family's discovering, brings you closer as well. From my family to yours, best wishes for a happy and blessed holiday season.

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Feeling Grinchy
Great post, Lucy. I'm sure it'll be really hard for a lot of us to feel even remotely merry this year - I guess you could say that the Obama victory and progressive overthrow is going to be the socio-economic equivalent of a plaintive "You can make it my birthday AND Christmas present!"

Please accept my best tidings for you and your family, and in the meantime, here's this video:

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