Will Holiday Traditionalism Stage A Comeback?

holiday cookies

Cue the "Fiddler on the Roof" music: This year, consumers say they intend to pay special attention to their favorite holiday traditions. A new survey from Sears shows that even as consumers are quickly starting new traditions to address the altered economy, they're also pumping up the ones they feel are most important, from baking cookies to singing Christmas carols.

Some 90% of those it surveyed say that because of the challenging economy, they are more focused on celebrating family traditions. And an ambitious 18% are determined to build new traditions, such as creating a grab bag or secret Santa system instead of buying gifts for everyone. About 80% say celebrating the holidays without those traditions would be worse than a season with no presents.

And another study reports that many are even happy about the way financial setbacks have helped them refocus. That research, from Context-Based Research Group, an ethnographic research company, and Carton Donofrio Partners, a marketing firm in Baltimore, reports that 43% of a survey of 1,000 adults say they expect to experience more happiness this holiday season, and believe -- at least to a degree -- that the recession has had a positive impact on their lives.



Those most impacted by the recession aren't just feeling more joy, they're spreading it: Half plan to gift-give in the form of volunteering, and four-fifths says they will spend more time with family and friends this season. (Among those who say they have not been directly impacted by the recession, 34% say they will volunteer, and 78% will spend more time with friends and family.)

Just how much consumers will follow through on these intentions is debatable, and Thanksgiving will be the first test. The Food Network -- which recently announced its most ambitious Thanksgiving package ever, with recipes, videos, and contests -- says that its site users have responded extremely well to the traditional content there.

Of the 14 themed menus featured in the new Thanksgiving package, the site's "Classic" Thanksgiving menu is by far the most popular, says Kristin Alm, a spokesperson for Scripps Network, which owns the site. That menu features such classic fare as Alton Brown's Good Eats Roast Turkey, which she says is the most popular turkey recipe on the Web year after year, as well as such staples as mashed potatoes, pecan pie, and green bean casserole, which it says is eaten by 40 million Americans each year.

Some market researchers are skeptical, and don't expect to see a sudden army of carolers, soup-kitchen volunteers, or cookie bakers. "Many consumers are likely to report a change in their holiday behavior due to the economy," says Michelle Barry, SVP at the Hartman Group, a market research company based in Bellevue, Wash., which has explored traditionalism in recent surveys.

"What we typically get is a response that harkens back to nostalgia and imagined memories of simpler times," she says. But she doubts that consumers will make any meaningful shifts in the way they celebrate. "We have found that collective value systems have changed very little in the past 10 years," she says. "These responses probably aren't particularly grounded in actual behavior."

There will be less spending, she says, but that's as much related to a lack of credit and income as any true shift in values.

The Sears survey found that specific cost-cutting plans are common, with 25% of respondents planning on buying an artificial tree, 43% asking guests to bring food to the festivities, and 63% setting spending limits on gifts.

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