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Remembering Holiday Spirit During The Depression

This article is more than 10 years old.

Despite dire economic forecasts, Americans will rely on credit cards in malls and for online gift shopping this year. And while some might be scaling back in light of the recession, others will rack up personal debt during the holidays.

This wasn't how it used to be, according to people who lived through the hardest of economic times. In the second part of our series this week, we hear perspectives from two women who grew up during the Great Depression. Both are residents of The Goddard House in Brookline, Mass., and today they consider the holiday season — then and now.

VIVIAN MASSEY
Life on the farm was very difficult. There were 7 children.

My name is Vivian Massey, my age is 90.

We lived partly in the south, Louisiana, and the desert, Indio, California.

I think of Christmas. I'll describe a little bit. We hung stockings up. Our stockings. Nothing was bought. The next morning we had an orange, we had an apple, we had a banana. And we had fireworks, small cotton fireworks. And a Kewpie doll. That was the extent of our Christmas.

BETTY LEDERMAN
We didn't get any gifts for Hannukah or anything like that.

My name is Betty Lederman, I'm 89 years old, I was in Brooklyn New York during the Depression. I was only 10 years old at the time.

I didn't get roller skates, I didn't get a bicycle, I didn't get any of those things, at that time my friends weren't getting it either.

VIVIAN MASSEY
Of course we had a lot of food. Most people didn't. We grew our own vegetables, melons, peanuts, sugar cane, my father raised sugar cane and cotton.

Then we had a large dinner. We bought a sack of oysters and my father would open these and we'd sit there and he'd hand us each one (laughs) as we ate them!

BETTY LIEDERMAN
She made a little cake or something like that and we managed. But at the time I didn't think I was underprivileged cause everybody I knew was not better off, maybe a little bit better, a little bit worse, but we were more or less in the same boat.

Things were simpler in those days. It's very complicated now.

VIVIAN MASSEY
Even though we have everything we need they are desperate times.

BETTY LIEDERMAN
People are using charge cards. Some people are using it to get more and more merchandise, whatever they need, but some people don't make a salary where they can pay all of their debts. Rates of interest are unbelievable.

VIVIAN MASSEY
It's frightening, what's happening. Your sense of values, gone.

BETTY LIEDERMAN
Look at the cars that they buy, they get bigger and bigger televisions.

It would be much more difficult for people to manage on less money because they're so used to having these, really the luxuries.

VIVIAN MASSEY
I look at the children and they're buying everything under the sun. They come home, open a package, throw it in the corner, never look at it again. And that's frightening.

This program aired on December 16, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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