Christmas and Shopping: a Puerto Rican tradition

by: Milagros B. Gerena Rivera,  Ashley M. Santiago Cardona and Katia  Y. Lasanta Pagán

2009 has been quite a year for Puerto Rico. 17,000 government employees were fired from their jobs; naturally, they have no salary to satisfy their necessities.

Puerto Rico’s public debt has grown at a faster rate than the growth of its economy, reaching $46.7 billion in 2008.  Governor Luis Fortuño recently took several measures aimed at eliminating the government’s $3.3 billion deficit. The island unemployment rate is 12% as November of 2009.  “We enter the era of the bankrupt economy” said by the CNE blog “The Bankrupt Economy.”

A work stoppage was held just recently and the air has been very tense. We can expect economic growth to be anemic, dull, or zero. Unsurprisingly, unemployment will be consistently high, and our overall quality of life will just not be the same. Christmas is just around the corner and many Puerto Ricans are left without their Christmas bonus. The scenario points out that Santa Claus is coming thin this year and the Three Kings will not have a royalty income

Daymarie Cardona, a seven-year old, lives in Isabela with her mother who just got fired from her two government jobs, two months before Christmas time. Dymarie Figueroa, her mother, is currently separated from her partner and just became unemployed from the Department of Education. Here she invested ten years being in charge of buying the materials all of the schools in Isabela needed. On a day like any other she received a letter stating that she had work until November.

“The first thing I did when I learned that I was going to be laid-off was to make a little budget to buy my daughter’s Christmas presents,” she said. The situation on the Island has grown precarious although the government is offering the unemployed some alternatives to help them. These are: 1) Food Stamps, 2) Health Insurance for six months, 3) Unemployment until they can find another job, and 4) Monetary help for people who want to study or t

Image taken from:

Image taken from: start their own business. The problem is… That apparently these are not the only needs people have, shopping is also a tradition.

“This year I have opted in buying cheaper gifts and giving presents to my closest family members,” she added. The way she manages her Christmas expenses has been to create a budget and stick to it. She understands that if she spends more than what she has estimated, she will have a tougher situations approaching her way.

Puerto Ricans shine for their need to consume. Stores still overflow with people even in the economic crisis we stand in, better said, try to stand in. “When I visit the mall, I see so many people. Sometimes it seems as if the Island wasn’t going through an economical depression,” Figueroa included.People are taking for granted the little they have without thinking about the future. She also shared that she went to the Hatillo Plaza on Dec. 13, 2009 and found no space to park her vehicle. When you arrive to the mall all you see is a parking lot full of cars, you spend almost half an hour searching for one parking but, sometimes you’ll never find it.

In addition, Delmarie Padilla, manager University Plaza’s Walgreens, knows how this well know pharmacy looked during the “Black Friday.” “It looked and felt like it was three in the afternoon, and it was only four in the morning” she said. Walgreens had put their toys on sale, and everybody was grabbing.

The economy recession stipulated recently in Puerto Rico cannot be noticed in the malls. The sales are still at the same rhythm they were passed years. The sale rate of Walgreens has not changed and doesn’t reflect the Islands recession. Delmarie Padilla currently manager of Walgreens in Mayagüez, said: “sale rates have been mostly the same these years”.  In the 4 years that Padilla’s has been working for the company the only thing she saw is that everyone is spending approximately the same but, looking more items in the shopper for sale.

These days the consumerism and the luxury much people are accustomed off are very expensive. People are beginning to search for items less expensive. Consumerism is the consumption of material items for personal happiness. Does excess of consumerism brings us happiness? We release stress and search for happiness buying materials but we don’t see the real effects of this behavior. The excess of consumerism makes us spend all of our money; it is being under a spell that makes you forget that there will be bills to pay. Some people are beginning to make drastic changes.

Wesley Velazquez, student of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, woke up in the crack of dawn of the Black Friday to buy his early Christmas present. “I bought myself a new iPod and a new Mac. I already own a Mac… But the new one has better applications” he said. It is clear that he bought stuff he doesn’t need, but it does make him happy. Many items were put in very good prices, but just because it is cheap… do we need to buy it? He also shared that the federal student aid had just arrived before Christmas, for this reason he was more tempted to go shopping for himself.

Consumerism is something that people do when they have stress or have unexpressed feelings. This is also the case of Francisco Aguilar, another UPRM student. When Francisco feels a high level of stress he releases it buying and playing video games.  The problem of this student isn’t playing games; is the money he uses to buy them. “I spend all the scholarship on video games instead of the books for my next semester” said Francisco. Stress can lead you to a bad administration of your money.

This makes consumerism a big problem for those who can’t control themselves. “Take my money, save it, and don’t give it to me even if I cry”, said Francisco to his mother because his need to buy, especially in holiday season, is like a monster that keeps him from administrating his money.

Sometimes extreme measures are needed so people can learn a better way to manage their money. Saving isn’t what everybody thinks. Saving is the correct management of your moneyChristmas is a time of joy and reuniting with family. During this time we commemorate Jesus’ birth.  It is tradition for families to exchange gifts, but this tradition has gone further than just buying the perfect gift and sharing with family. Even in times of crisis, consumerism is constant. The holiday season arrives and the need to buy is extreme. People seem unaware of the consequences this brings economically because they are not focusing on what is really important. Right now, the situation we are in tells us that the right course of action is to be very critical when it come to spending over our budgets and capacity.

“Christmas is the most financially ill-prepared time of the year. Consumers rarely put money back for Christmas. Instead, they use credit in the hopes that the bills can be paid off in January” said Bob Brooks in his online blog.  Unfortunately, spending usually results in additional debts. College students are not excluded from this illness, in fact, it is shown that they are prone to fall in that vicious cycle. 200,000 students receive the federal financial aid which is a total of 800 million dollars annually. Is all of this money being well spent? We do not know, but what we do know is that malls are packed, people wake up for the Black Friday with a passion never seen before and the debts keep on growing.

Students should not forget the purpose of the money. Christmas doesn’t mean we have to quickly spend money. It isn’t about appointments with the mall. We have appointments with ourselves. We have to spend our money wisely when we stand in a difficult economic situation, if not, there are worse times will come. Christmas will finish and we will be forced to snap into reality.

Christmas is a beautiful time of the year and we as Puerto Ricans have it misunderstood. Spending money can turn it very ugly and against us. It is necessary to react upon the economic situation we face. We should take the way we administrate our money seriously, we don’t need everything; we want everything. Saving is the key for escaping crisis and the gateway for a magical Christmas time. This year Santa or the Three Kings may come poor, but maybe next year, it will be different if you start looking at your personal income in a different way.


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