Listen: Hard xmas (baxter)-0769

MPR’s Annie Baxter profiles the Peterson family as they prepare for a holiday season after a job loss.

The Petersons love Christmas, but with Allen Peterson being one of the 200,000 unemployed Minnesotans, the family faces tough choices about how not to spend this holiday season. The Petersons think going without gifts is an important lesson for daughter, Alex.


2009 NBNA Eric Sevareid Award, award of merit in Soft Feature - Large Market Radio category

2009 Minnesota AP Award, first place in Feature - Radio Division, Class Three category


text | pdf |

ANNIE BAXTER: Allen and Michelle Peterson love Christmas. And the decorations on their house in Bloomington show it. Animated statues of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim greet you at the front entrance. Red lights twinkle around the doorway.

Inside, Michelle's favorite music box plays songs from The Nutcracker, and tiny ballerinas twirl around in the box. It reminds Michelle of their 11-year-old daughter Alexandra's early years.

MICHELLE PETERSON: Alex was in The Nutcracker in her Montessori school for several years. So it's got a special place in our hearts. And-- isn't that cute? I just love it.

ANNIE BAXTER: In the living room, the family's Christmas tree gleams with lights and ornaments. A handful of gift boxes lie underneath. But they're mostly just decoys.

MICHELLE PETERSON: These are all empty. They're for looks. We just put them under there so that they would look festive. Right, Alex?


ANNIE BAXTER: Christmas this year follows a big shift in the Peterson household. Allen got laid off in August. He was a factory manager.

ALLEN PETERSON: Sales just weren't moving along. So we knew that this was going to come about. And I tried everything possible to keep it moving to help the company, but also keep us employed.

ANNIE BAXTER: But the recession claimed Allen's job. Michelle, who works part time as an accountant, put the family on a strict budget. No more fast food. No new school clothes for Alex. And the empty gift boxes under the tree signal one of their toughest budget decisions. They're not buying presents for Christmas.

MICHELLE PETERSON: And that's including for Alex.

ANNIE BAXTER: The Petersons think this is an important lesson for Alex.

MICHELLE PETERSON: You don't spend money you don't have, and you plan for the future.

ANNIE BAXTER: Michelle and Allen say so far, Alex has been a good sport about not expecting big presents this year. She seems to understand their situation. Are you actually persuaded that this is the right thing for your parents to do not to buy presents?

ALEXANDRA PETERSON: Well, one thing is you're asking a 11-year-old kid. So my perspective is going to be a little bit different than theirs. I was really mad about that because I want to be able to give my friend gifts. I want to get gifts.

It's like one of the Christmas spirits, getting gifts and giving gifts. But I do know that if we don't have any money going in, we can lose the house. Lose the cars.

ANNIE BAXTER: And Alex adds she knows what it's like to burn through cash.

ALEXANDRA PETERSON: I do know how it is because I have actually overspent on vacation once. I got about $100. I spent it in two days.

ANNIE BAXTER: Maintaining their pledge to skip presents has been hard for the Petersons. They usually shop for 80 people and enjoy doing it. And this year, they even turned down a generous offer from a friend who sent a $200 check, and told them to spend it on presents for Alex. They worried about hurting their friend's feelings, but decided to stick to their principles and decline the money. Michelle says they wanted to be consistent in their message to Alex.

MICHELLE PETERSON: While we would never accept it-- but even had we accepted it, how would we explain all of a sudden-- here's what we've been saying and all of a sudden, here's some really cool gifts? So then we're like well, are we really being grinches and second guessing? But I don't think so. She's a happy kid. She's got plenty of things.

ANNIE BAXTER: Alex doesn't know it. But she'll get a few stocking stuffers Christmas morning, including some books she loves. Michelle and Allen hope their daughter will get a special kick out of the gifts since she isn't expecting anything. Meanwhile, they say Alex is making big strides scaling back her ideas about what they can afford. She recently saw a Santa outfit for dogs at a store and thought it would be cute on their dog.

ALEXANDRA PETERSON: I was thinking that I would go buy it.

MICHELLE PETERSON: And then she immediately says, I know. But we can't afford to buy it. And she went back and put it back. And it's like, no, that's not on our list of practical items. Dog suits.

ANNIE BAXTER: The family is hoping their budget will be looser in the new year. Allen Peterson recently had a couple job interviews. And Alex is pulling for him.

Her birthday's coming up in a few weeks. And she'd really like some presents then. Annie Baxter. Minnesota Public Radio News, Bloomington.


Materials created/edited/published by Archive team as an assigned project during remote work period and in office during fiscal 2021-2022 period.

This Story Appears in the Following Collections

Views and opinions expressed in the content do not represent the opinions of APMG. APMG is not responsible for objectionable content and language represented on the site. Please use the "Contact Us" button if you'd like to report a piece of content. Thank you.

Transcriptions provided are machine generated, and while APMG makes the best effort for accuracy, mistakes will happen. Please excuse these errors and use the "Contact Us" button if you'd like to report an error. Thank you.

< path d="M23.5-64c0 0.1 0 0.1 0 0.2 -0.1 0.1-0.1 0.1-0.2 0.1 -0.1 0.1-0.1 0.3-0.1 0.4 -0.2 0.1 0 0.2 0 0.3 0 0 0 0.1 0 0.2 0 0.1 0 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.2 0.1 0.4 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.2 0 0.4-0.1 0.5-0.1 0.2 0 0.4 0 0.6-0.1 0.2-0.1 0.1-0.3 0.3-0.5 0.1-0.1 0.3 0 0.4-0.1 0.2-0.1 0.3-0.3 0.4-0.5 0-0.1 0-0.1 0-0.2 0-0.1 0.1-0.2 0.1-0.3 0-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.2 0-0.1 0-0.2 0-0.3 0-0.2 0-0.4-0.1-0.5 -0.4-0.7-1.2-0.9-2-0.8 -0.2 0-0.3 0.1-0.4 0.2 -0.2 0.1-0.1 0.2-0.3 0.2 -0.1 0-0.2 0.1-0.2 0.2C23.5-64 23.5-64.1 23.5-64 23.5-64 23.5-64 23.5-64"/>