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Many NH residents focus on helping the less forunate

Sunday News Correspondent|

December 02. 2012 12:38AM

Three days before the biggest shopping day of the year, Derry native Sarah McKay wasn't thinking about cutting coupons or setting her alarm for 3 a.m. on Friday.

McKay, who works for a Boston publishing firm, said she instead prefers to kick off her holiday season by helping those less fortunate.

For the past seven years, McKay and her coworkers have hosted a company-wide Thanksgiving food drive, gathering canned goods and grocery gift cards for charity, and much of Tuesday was spent bringing carloads of donated food items to their final destination.

"It just doesn't feel like the holiday season unless I'm giving back somehow," McKay said.

While it seems that each season the twinkle lights sparkle a little bit earlier and the lines at the mall get a little bit longer, the true spirit of the season still hasn't been lost on many Granite State residents.

For some, the weeks stretching between Thanksgiving and Christmas are still a time to attend a church service, help out a stranger, say a simple prayer or spend some much-needed time catching up with friends and relatives.

And for the faithful, the days leading up to Christmas remain a deeply spiritual time: one of contemplation, celebration and goodwill toward others.

"The season of Advent is a time for us to really slow down and reflect on what we're really celebrating on December 25," said Rev. Robert Coutu, pastor of St. Jude's Parish in Londonderry.

"At this time of the year, it's important to still remember what the first six letters of the word 'Christmas" are," Coutu said. "It's a celebration of the birth of Christ, But we lose part of ourselves when we rush around to buy happiness."

Which means Coutu encourages his parishioners to honor their faith by reaching out to others: visiting the elderly and sick, supporting those mourning lost loved ones and sponsoring struggling local families through the church's Blue Angel project, which distributes food baskets and gifts to residents in need.

"It's important to stop and look at the needs of the people around us," he said.

Nashua resident Crystal Cobb said she enjoys the quiet peace of her family's lakeside cottage over the holidays, as opposed the hustle and bustle at the local mall.

Several years ago, when the economy worsened, Cobb and her family stopped exchanging Christmas gifts and haven't looked back. "Our Christmas is now about our enjoyment of one another's company and an amazing spread for the dinner table," she said.

Hampton resident Susan Nolan, a hospice chaplain with Life Choice Hospice of the Merrimack Valley, recalls a simpler time when there were no malls, people still bundled up to go caroling for neighbors and Christmas shopping was done entirely in the downtown streets of her childhood Maine town.

"I miss the sweetness of those Christmases and the simple celebrations. The world stood still on Christmas morning. I miss the Blue Laws that required stores to be closed then," Nolan recalled. "There was nowhere to go and nothing to buy on Christmas morning."

These days, Nolan holds tight to the spirit of the holidays by spending time with her children and grandchildren and keeping the gifts "simple and sparse so the children can enjoy each one and each other."

In her work as a hospice chaplain, Nolan tries to share those simple joys with her mostly elderly clients.

"Many are in nursing homes and I reminisce with them and sing Christmas carols with them," she said. "Often, it's just about holding their hands and listening to their stories."

Londonderry resident Mary Wing Soares said the holiday music, movies and decorations don't take her away from the spirit of the season, but instead serve as constant reminders.

"The lights and decorations only serve to remind of the Christmas spirit: that of being good to one another, holding your family close even if there are riffs within and cherishing each moment we are given," she said. "Life is just too short to perseverate on the commercialism. I just look beyond."

Knights of Columbus

Dave Wilson of New Boston works each year to keep the spirit of the season alive. As Chairman of the New Hampshire Knights of Columbus Keep Christ in Christmas (KCIC) project, he annually recruits Knights councils across the state to help in his effort to keep the true meaning of Christmas alive.

"As Christians, Catholics and Knights of Columbus, it is our responsibility to keep Christ in Christmas," said Wilson. "It is our duty to stand up for Christ and promote the true meaning of Christmas. The KCIC Religious Christmas Card Program is a very significant and easy way to keep "Christ' in Christmas."

Wilson said the program spreads the word about the religious meaning behind the Christmas holiday through the sale of greeting cards and banners emblazoned with the project's central theme, "Keep Christ in Christmas.'' The cards are typically sold at local churches that share an affiliation with a K of C council.

"In 2011, 18 New Hampshire Knights of Columbus councils answered the call and distributed approximately 12,500 spiritual Christmas cards," said Wilson. "We raised approximately $3,500 for K of C charitable causes. The number of councils we've had participating in the program rises and falls each year. The most we've had taking part at one time I think is 25. Participation is voluntary."

There are 68 Knights of Columbus Councils in New Hampshire. For more information on the program, go to

Email blitz

To some, a flood of email advertisements represents deals; to others, a reason to hit "Delete."

The line of demarcation between "sale'' and "spam'' blurred last weekend, as inboxes across the state overflowed with emails from retailers advertising Cyber Monday deals and discounts.

"It's a great way for retailers to connect with customers," said Nancy Kyle, Presidents and CEO of the New Hampshire Retail Merchants Association. "You already know they are interested in your store, because they've signed up to receive newsletters or offers, or "liked'' you on Facebook. Whether its a big box retailer or a Main Street shop, it works.''

"I love it," said Andrea Lessard, owner of the Shop Estella and Statement boutiques in Manchester. "We've gotten a great response from it. We send out alerts to our customers about sales, coupons they can print ... it's an easy way to connect with people. And it's easy."

Cyber Monday has been the busiest email marketing day of the year for the past six years straight, according to Chad White, Research Director with Responsys, a company that provides software that allows marketers to design, execute and manage email campaigns."

"It's cheap and seems to work," said Josh Lauer, an assistant professor of communication at UNH. "Promotional emails not only generate huge online sales, but also drive consumers to the brick-and-mortar stores of major retailers like Macy's, Walmart, and Target"?

"I sent out an email on Tuesday, letting people know we would have sale items the rest of the week," said Lessard. "It generated sales both online and in store for us for those items."

Online retailers had their biggest day ever on Cyber Monday 2012, as holiday shoppers drove sales up 30 percent compared with the same day last year, according to IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks Web sales at 500 top online retailers. Online sales for department stores accounted for much of the boost, up 43 percent over last year.

Those numbers all but guarantee the emails will pile up once again next November.

"It worries me, because I think it pulls customers away from the smaller businesses," said Tim Sink, President of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. "There are some shops that don't do business online, that don't have a web presence. And it's those businesses that I'm worried about, if this trend continues."

Consumers agree to receive the emails, often by signing up to receive a store's coupons and newsletters. But sometimes a consumer fails read the fine print when ordering from a website, and agrees to receive the emails simply by neglecting to click a box declaring they wish to be left off the list.

"Most emails have an 'unsubscribe' link at the bottom," said Innis. "It is pretty easy to get removed from a list. But it is also easy to get added to one - and you might not even know when you are added if someone is selling your address. Email is subject to pretty much the same rules and practices as more traditional junk mail.

.Staff Writer Paul Feely contributed to this story.

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