The jingling of sleigh bells is growing louder, but you still have plenty of December left for winter holiday financial stories.
First up, Hanukkah. The Jewish Festival of Life commences Dec. 9 and ends on the 16th. And while the religious observance doesn’t really correspond to Christmas, its occurrence in December has in recent years caught the eye merchandisers and has in some circles acquired holiday trapping like decor, gift-giving and entertaining. Web articles offering tips for a green Hanukkah, party trends, Hanukkah marketing and even a “hipster Hanukkah” abound, and national chains like Target feature items as well. I recently drove past a house that featured white and blue light strings festooned in the shape of menorahs, the candle-holders that are an important symbol of the holiday.
You might check into sales trends and interesting new products at kosher markets and delis, along with catering services offering Hanukkah feasts; what are some of the special considerations they have in making sure foodstuffs are handled properly according to religious requirements; here’s a recent press release from a kosher caterer. Here’s a neat business story about “The men who make sure Manisshewitz wine is kosher,” perhaps you can find similar behind-the-scenes stories at local food processors and purveyors.
Other good stories for mid-December:
Workplace issues. Holidays are legendary for creating family tension but they can cause a ruckus at work, too. The allocation of holiday time off is fraught with room for hurt feelings; seniority policies often are at odds with employee needs as this CBS Money Watch post indicates: There’s a contingent that believes parents should get priority when it comes to the Santa season. You might do a rond-up of local HR managers and small business owners about what their biggest headaches are this time of year — especially at 24/7 institutions like hospitals, all-night towing companies, airports and transportation companies, and so on.
Some reports say holiday bonuses are going to be up this year; a poll of area employers would be of interest to your audience.
What happens to productivity between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? This 2008 survey from the Institute for Corporate Productivity says it dives, but not necessarily in a bad way. (And given the timing of that survey, what are managers seeing post-recession: More nose to the grindstone?) How do they make sure all workers get their fair share of time off? And what about those who don’t celebrate Christian and Jewish holidays — what’s the latest in terms of the legality of workplace religioius displays, celebrations and so on? Liability is another concern: Is alcohol pretty much banned from employer-sponsored parties these days? And check out this Safety News Alert post about workers compensation and holiday parties.
Cash-strapped shoppers. With the jobless rate still high and unemployment benefits expired or about to for many Americans, coming up with spending money might be rough. I couldn’t find any U.S. data but there’s no reason to think American trends will be much different from those in Britain, where one survey found that 4 million people will tap payday loans for Christmas money this year. To give a picture of the tighter end of your region’s economy, why not check in on layaway desks, payday loan and cash advance operators, check-cashing outlets and the like? Pawn shops, of course, are markets for borrowers and buyers. And you certainly could get a colorful yet substantive feature by checking in on business at thrift shops, both the for-profit resale stores and those run by charities like the Salvation Army and Goodwill. What’s their take on the trends in sales and hot merchandise this year, and how is 2012 compared to previous years? (How are donations trending, too?)
One last heads up: I’ll write more about shipping companies in next week’s Festive Friday post, but because this idea needs lead time: I’ve known at least one reporter who got a lot of mileage (so to speak) out of riding with a UPS driver on busy holiday rounds. In addition to the interesting “day in the life of” aspect, you’d get an interesting read on which vendors the packages are coming from, which neighborhoods are buying what, etc. Of course it’s anecdotal but still, a fun glimpse into which neighborhoods are heavy on QVC vs. the streets that partake from Amazon or L.L. Bean.