Westchester County area residents hit the malls with mixed emotions Saturday for a final round of holiday shopping fraught with deeply personal choices about how to celebrate Christmas.
Though many shoppers said they are spending like it was 2011, others feel battered by the two Sandys -- the Oct. 29 superstorm Sandy, which took lives and destroyed homes through the region, and the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 first-graders and six faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Some also said they fear the bad news isn't over because the so-called fiscal cliff looms ahead.
"We tried to cut down a little this year because it's not about the gifts, it's about being together ... we all have the gift of life this year," said Libby King, 49, of Pleasantville, as she picked up a few last-minute items Saturday morning at The Westchester mall in White Plains.
Although the Christmas decorations are up as usual, King said she is not "going overboard" with presents. Last Christmas, her three children, ages 19, 21 and 22, respectively, each received eight to 10 gifts. On Tuesday, they can look forward to three or four each, she said.
The Newtown, Conn., shooting also weighed heavily on Vicky Tesler, 56, of Yonkers, whose 26-year-old daughter is a teacher. Though she is not usually an extravagant shopper anyway, she is even more subdued this season and wants to hold her total gift budget to under $1,000 because she can't get the slayings out of her head.
"It's put a damper on things," she said. "Every time you hear the news, you can't help but feel guilty."
FINAL RETAIL PUSH
But others were determined to stay upbeat during a final retail push that began Friday and ends Monday, with retailers estimating $34 billion in sales nationally -- a sum that will account for about 8 percent of $400 billion in December sales, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse. Most retailers make half of their annual sales during the final two months of the year, and the numbers have not been particularly strong going into the final shopping weekend.
Although many Internet retailers extended their delivery deadlines through Friday to attract as many online shoppers as possible, most of the Web-based purchases were made early in the Crestwood home of Arber Tominaj, 41. Since his wife took care of Santa's list early, by the time the Sandy Hook killings made news, "A lot of the shopping was already done online anyway," he said.
One Harrison mom who declined to give her name said she also handled most of her purchases online, at Amazon.com. But even if she didn't, she said she wouldn't let the shooting tragedy affect her holidays.
"It's all completely depressing, but I just can't think about it," said the mom, who was shopping with her 5-year-old son and didn't want her name mentioned because one of her family members is personally acquainted with several of the Sandy Hook victims. "For the sake of the little ones, you just have to go on."
Cortlandt Manor resident John Johns, 57, said that "everything is status quo" for his festivities with his wife and two children. As usual, he has spent several thousand dollars on gifts for them, including "a couple of iPads and other things," he said. But Johns remains "concerned" about the fiscal cliff -- a series of massive spending cuts and tax increases automatically set to go into effect in January if Congress fails to agree on a budget plan.
"If we go over that cliff, it will be detrimental to the economy, and then maybe I'll feel like I should have held back," Johns said. "But right now, I didn't let anything hinder my shopping."
The economy was also on Yvonne Evans' mind because the 47-year-old Yonkers resident said she is still struggling with the aftermath of "the recession and everything. We just don't have money like we used to."
She is still managing to indulge the youngsters in her life -- at the expense of her two twenty-something sons who won't be getting gifts this holiday. Especially after the Sandy Hook massacre, children need to celebrate, she said.
"It was horrible. and it makes you want to give your kids a little more because time is not promised to anyone on this Earth," she said.
With The Associated Press