There's a Gloomy Mood Out There That Americans Must Fix
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
There's a Gloomy Mood Out There That Americans Must Fix
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
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“Merry Christmas!”  

I know that Zoom Thanksgiving wasn’t what you were hoping for, but I bet that turkey was still mighty tasty. Remember the good food and drink. Let it keep your belly warm and your thoughts merry. You’re going to need those good feelings to carry through this holiday season.   

This year we all need to do what we can. Call your parents. Share an eggnog on the porch with your next-door neighbor. Bring over some of that leftover turkey soup to the grandmother down the street that can’t visit her grandkids. Let your kids Facetime with their classmates. Text your cousins and wish them a Happy Holidays. After a year of lockdowns and loss, it is crucial that we look for ways to lift each other’s spirits. Let’s make the effort and help spread cheer.   

For many, this may be the toughest holiday season of their lifetimes. Most of you probably feel this intuitively, but we also have data to back that statement up. Every fall Consumers’ Research heads out into the field for an annual survey of the holiday consumer landscape. For the most part, we ask the same basic questions each year. What kinds of gifts do you want for the holidays? What activities are the most important to you and your family? Are you looking forward to those glorious holiday meals?  

By asking the same questions each year, we can spot major changes in expectations and behavior. For example, last year we found for the first time that more consumers were planning to do all or most of their holiday shopping online rather than in-store. 2019 sales numbers from online and brick and mortar retailers proved this prediction correct.  

This year we found a blaring warning.   

Each year, Consumers’ Research asks respondents to rank how merry their holidays will be from 1 – 10. Rankings of 8 and above are “very merry,” while 3 and below are generally unmerry. In past years, one of our most consistent findings is that Americans as a whole expect their holidays to be very merry. For example, in 2018, 49.7% of respondents expected the holidays to be very merry. In 2019, that jumped to 55%.  

This year? Only 38% of Americans are expecting a very merry holiday season.   

Disturbingly, the decrease in merriment does not appear to be driven by holiday apathy, but by an increase in holiday dread. In 2020, the percentage of respondents answering that their holidays would not be merry at all doubled from 2019. As did the number of respondents who thought their holidays would be generally unmerry.  

With the isolation brought on by coronavirus, you might expect the decline in merriment to come from older Americans. However, we found a general holiday malaise across the board, regardless of age, gender, or race. In fact, the demographic with the single largest decrease in holiday merriment since last year was ages 18-29.  

While we didn’t ask specific questions about coronavirus in our survey, our findings clearly show that the pandemic is at the forefront of the American psyche this season.  As always, Consumers’ Research found that the most important holiday activity was spending time with loved ones – statistically unchanged from 2019. We also found that other activities associated with human interaction increased dramatically year over year. The two activities with the largest increases? Sharing great meals and spiritual activities. This strongly suggests that Americans are starved for human interaction, and it warns that without a collective effort on the part of all Americans, we could be in for a bleak midwinter. U.S. policymakers, presidents, governors, and mayors should understand coronavirus is not the only danger this season.   

Right now, Americans are down this holiday season, more so than any time in recent history. The holidays are already an incredible strain on the mental health of so many Americans. Add on social isolation and fear of the virus, and this holiday season could be devastating. But it doesn’t have to be.  

Much like Ebenezer Scrooge, we have been given an early warning. THERE IS STILL TIME! With our bellies full of turkey and our brains full of football, let’s commit the best parts of our Thanksgiving to memory and carry that forward through the rest of the holiday season. By working together, we can make sure all Americans – especially the ones that aren’t expecting it – have a merry end to 2020.   

So, from all of us at Consumers’ Research:   

“Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!”  

Will Hild is the executive director at Consumers’ Research.

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