It is the last week of Christmas shopping which, in the recent past, has been a merry time for retailers. This year however many of those buying Christmas presents find themselves with less to spend or anxious about the recession that is yet to come.
In London at least, a weak pound sterling has attracted a shopping tourist crowd. “I can’t believe how many people are shopping. We are in the midst of a recession and look at it, it is booming, so I don’t see any signs of it myself,” said one surprised visitor. But the signs are there, in most shop windows. Prices have been slashed to tempt customers to part with their money. For some shoppers, all the bad news on the economy has inspired a sense of Carpe Diem. As one Londoner put it: “I think there is more reason to celebrate this year because the future looks so dim. So I am making the most of it and it does (look dim). I am scared.” But will the festive period, and its particular boost to sales of toys and food, put even this financial crisis on hold? Shoppers and retailers in Brussels gave different answers. “Our generation makes the Christmas dinner at home and, as for presents, perhaps we are spending a bit less but when it comes to my grand-daughter I don’t watch what I spend,” said a shopper. For one shop-owner the picture looks glum: “What our customers spend is about the same but there are a lot fewer people here. Normally this shop should be packed with shoppers,” said toy-shop owner Alain Serneels. In Madrid’s Plaza Major, the traditional Christmas market is also quieter than it should be at this time of year. The Spanish housing boom has bust and that has led to families tightening the purse strings. One mother said: “There seem to be fewer stands this year, fewer shoppers and less Christmas atmosphere in general. Maybe it is still too early but we do notice it and our pockets notice it too what with the mortgage and everything else.” But, taking the retailers out of the equation, some people are keen to point out that Christmas is not all about money. That was the case with Pablo who said: “We do feel the crisis but you can’t ignore Christmas, you have to enjoy it.” Santa Claus has seen recessions come and go and is sure to be a busy man again this year even if his sack is a little lighter.