A New Economic Indicator: Christmas Decorations

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Is the economy recovering? Is the recession double-dipping? Here are a few holiday studies that contain some good cheer.

If you believe one group of experts, the U.S. economy is rebounding.

“Consumers are entering the holiday season with greater hope and optimism than at any point since September 2008 – just before the global financial crisis hit a fever pitch,” says Marc Harris with financial services company RBC Capital Markets, which released a study on this very topic just a few days ago.

Then again …

“Consumers are saying ‘not so fast’ on calling a recovery,” says Bradley Honan, senior vice president of market research firm StrategyOne, which has just updated its Annual Holiday Shopping Index. “Even though there has been some good news about the economy, consumers are still unsettled about the future.”

If you’re on the fence regarding who to believe, there are other economic indicators that might help – Christmas indicators.

A new study by a marketing firm called HCD Research, which surveyed Americans on … Christmas decorations. The results found “people are more tolerant of Christmas decorations this year than in recent years.”

Specifically, 57 percent of us now believe that the gaudily decorated house in our neighborhood improves the place, compared to only 40 percent in  2009. This is no joke. Here’s how rigorous the science was …

During the study, half of the participants viewed a photo taken at night of a modest house decked-out in lights and illuminated figures, while the other half viewed a daytime photo of a similar modest house decorated with a few wreaths. After viewing the photos, participants were asked the same questions about the type of people who might live in the houses.

According to HCD Research’s CEO Glenn Kessler, this study was about far more than Christmas lights.

“I believe the increase in positive sentiment toward Christmas decorations is an indication that Americans are tired of the doom and gloom of the economy,” Kessler boldly declared, adding that Americans “are looking for something positive to focus on during this holiday season.”

And how about Christmas trees? Tree sales can apparently also be an economic indicator – according to this article in the Wall Street Journal, they’re much higher this year than last, which says good things about the economy:

Christmas tree sellers surveyed by ISI Group, a New York research firm, said sales the weekend after Thanksgiving were up 6 percent from a year earlier, and that the following weekend they were up 3 percent.

That is a reversal from 2008, which marked the steepest drop in holiday-season sales since the 1930s. Last year, sales of real Christmas trees fell almost 10 percent to 28.2 million trees, down from 31.3 million in 2007, according to a Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the National Christmas Tree Association.

Then there’s the Challenger, Grey and Christmas (yes, that’s actually their name) annual survey (PDF) on holiday office parties. From their press release:

In its annual survey on holiday parties, global outplacement and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. found that 68 percent of companies are planning holiday parties this year, up slightly from 62 percent a year ago. About four percent of those holding parties this year are doing so after one or more years with no party due to the recession.

Put it all together and you’ve got to start feeling merry and bright!

Stacy Johnson

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