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Christmas yet to come for some

When Emily Russell's two young sons wake up on Christmas morning, they'll find that Santa left them a note instead of the video games they requested.

When Emily Russell's two young sons wake up on Christmas morning, they'll find that Santa left them a note instead of the video games they requested.

"Hey, I couldn't get by your house last night," Russell, a single mother from Kernersville, N.C., believes the note will say. "Your mom is going to take you to the store when she can."

Some people have always postponed Christmas celebrations because their jobs don't pause for the holiday. But in this weak economy, folks are delaying Christmas for another reason: money.

Deloitte's annual holiday survey for the first time asked shoppers whether they planned to wait until January to do the bulk of their shopping for Christmas. Six percent of the more than 5,000 respondents said they did.

The strategy can pay off. After Christmas, retailers offer discounts of up to 75 percent on a wider variety of items than they do in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

It's something cost-conscious shoppers have gotten hip to. Retail sales during the seven days after Christmas rose year-over-year in three of the last five years, according to the research firm ShopperTrak.

And last year, year-over-year online spending grew by 22 percent on Dec. 26 and 56 percent on Dec. 27, according to IBM's retail-consulting arm.

Elaine Wu and her husband plan to wait until the day after Christmas to shop because they have agreed not to spend more than $150 on each other - a difficult task, given that they like to splurge on upscale Marc Jacobs handbags and Armani shoes.

Wu said she would also wait until after Christmas to shop for some of her friends. Real friends, she figures, wouldn't want her to go through the headache of shopping in the pre-Christmas madness anyway.

"Just because it's a day late doesn't mean it's going to be any less special or didn't come from the same sentiment," said Wu, 36, a marketing manager for the start-up website BlogHer in Silicon Valley. "It just means that it's going to save us 60 percent."

Postponing Christmas Day is almost unheard of in some circles. About 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas - including 80 percent of non-Christians, according to Gallup polls.

But Bruce David Forbes, author of Christmas: A Candid History, says those who delay Christmas festivities can take some comfort in the fact that Dec. 25 isn't the actual date of the birth of Christ.

When Christians started celebrating Christ's birth in the fourth century, after the Roman emperor Constantine adopted the new religion, they didn't know the birth date, so it appears they picked a day to coincide with Romans' midwinter celebrations of their own gods. Meanwhile, Christians in countries such as Turkey and Greece were already celebrating on Jan. 6.

So, said Forbes, who teaches religious studies at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, if you're celebrating anywhere between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, "you're not even doing it late."

That may be a relief to Mujtaba al-Qudaihi of Baltimore, who plans to spend Dec. 25 watching a movie, catching up on reading, or killing time on the Internet. His real Christmas celebration - which includes his father dressing up as Santa and the extended family exchanging gifts and eating a big meal - will happen a few days later.

That's because it's cheaper for Qudaihi and other relatives to fly to his parents' home in Indianapolis after Christmas.

Besides, he figures the prices of gifts he plans to buy will be much cheaper after Christmas.

"Nothing changes," says Qudaihi, 27, who works in information-technology consulting for a public university. "Just the date."

Danielle McCurley of Lacey, Wash., plans to postpone for a couple of days. She wants to wait until her financial-aid check for her school tuition arrives so she can spend the extra money on gifts.

Ordinarily, McCurley would have finished shopping weeks ago. But this year is different: After losing her job as a home health aide, McCurley, 32, returned to school in the fall to study social work. Adding to that, her husband, Mario, was out of work for a year and a half, though he recently found a job as a security guard.

McCurley, who has children ages 4, 5, and 11, thinks her youngest two won't really notice. Her oldest will, but she already bought his present: a secondhand net-book she got for a third of the original price at $100. And she figures her mother, her three brothers, and her husband won't really mind the late presents.

Russell, in North Carolina, isn't sure how her sons, ages 8 and 10, will react when they learn Christmas will come late for them.

Postponing the celebration is the only way Russell, a customer-service worker, can manage to afford Christmas this year - she had to take two weeks off without pay recently when her youngest had his tonsils removed. If she waits until after Christmas to shop, she'll be able to buy each boy a video game, a board game, and one piece of clothing.

"It might be a little upsetting to start with," says Russell, 41. But she'll assure them Santa will be coming very soon.