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Nov. 30, 2023

Navigating the holiday season: MSU experts can help

The fall and winter seasons are a time when many Americans celebrate holidays and spend time with family and away from work. However, there can be many stressors that come along with preparing for these holidays, especially as people shop for gifts, cook large meals for gatherings and spend time with family members they may not see often.


Michigan State University experts are available to comment on many aspects of navigating the holiday season — from the economy and prices, to religion and spirituality, to health and relationships.

Economy, supply chain and security

Stanley Lim is an assistant professor of supply chain management in the Department of Supply Chain Management in MSU’s Broad College of Business, as well as a faculty affiliate with the Evolution and Future of Work Research Initiative. He is an expert in AI and machine learning, consumer behavior trends, retail strategy and systems, logistics and managing services.

“The escalating prices of candies during this holiday season are symptomatic of broader trends affecting the retail and supply chain sectors. These trends include inflationary pressures, transportation bottlenecks and increases in the costs of raw materials such as sugar, cocoa and dairy products. The ripple effect of these factors is exacerbated by the higher demand during the holidays, leading suppliers to mark up their prices further. Additionally, labor shortages and disruptions in last-mile logistics have contributed to higher costs that, inevitably, are passed on to the consumer. “Through proactive planning, informed decision-making and buying on days when there are significant discounts, consumers can effectively manage their candy expenditures amidst these challenging economic conditions.”

Bert Cregg is a professor in the Department of Horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He is an expert in physiology and the management of trees in landscapes and nursery production.

“Supplies of real Christmas trees are stable this year. Consumers that want a real tree will be able to find one, and it is important to note it takes eight to 10 years to produce a typical 7- to 8-foot Christmas tree. Any price increases will likely vary depending on the outlet. Most wholesalers and tree farms are trying to hold the line on prices, and any increases should be modest.”

David Ortega is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics in MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, where he is also a faculty laureate. He is an expert on consumer, producer and agribusiness decisions that affect the agricultural and food sectors, including the cost of food. He frequently provides expert opinion to governmental bodies.

“Higher food prices are on the menu this holiday season, but the significant disruptions and shortages we’ve witnessed in recent years have mostly subsided. Food supply chains have largely recovered from the pandemic, and the bird flu outbreak that affected turkey, egg and other poultry products last year has lessened. The price of ham, however, remains near a record high, due in part to higher production costs. Customers can save money by taking advantage of sales promotions, shopping around and being flexible with product substitutions at the supermarket.”

Thomas Holt is a professor and the director of on-campus master programs for the School of Criminal Justice in MSU’s College of Social Science. He is an expert in issues relating to computer hacking, malware and how the internet facilitates opportunities for crime.

“As a nation, we spend a lot of money through online retailers during the holidays getting gifts and prepping for parties and family meals. This means cybercriminals are thinking how they can exploit this period to make a profit. With the holiday season almost upon us, it is important to take a minute to ensure that you have all your decorations up, along with your cybersecurity awareness. People hear the phrase cybersecurity and may think it is complex and hard for them to implement if they’re not tech savvy. You don’t have to be an expert programmer to be safe online. You just have to know what threats look like and the simple strategies you can take to avoid them.”

Read about these strategies from Holt on MSUToday.

Religion and spirituality

Morgan Shipley is the inaugural Foglio Endowed Chair of Spirituality and an associate professor of religious studies in the Department of Religious Studies in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters. He is an expert in secular spirituality religion in popular culture and new religious movements.

“Shifts away from traditional religious membership doesn’t simply mean Americans are rejecting religion. Rather, they are exploring an ever-evolving spectrum of spirituality.” 

David Stowe, professor of religious studies in the Department of Religious Studies in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters, is an expert on religious hymns and holiday songs. He has written several books on religious music and held a research fellowship at Yale University’s Institute for Sacred Music.

“In American culture, Christmas is supposed to be synonymous with joy. Each November, when Christmas music starts its multiweek marathon, there are songs that go off script from this message — ‘Blue Christmas,’ and ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ for example — reflecting the toxic brew of nostalgia and melancholy that many people experience in late December.” 

Amy DeRogatis, professor and chairperson of the Department of Religious Studies in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters, is an expert in religion and American culture. DeRogatis is also the co-director of the American Religious Sounds Project, which documents and interprets the diversity of American religious life by attending to its varied sonic cultures. She has also helped develop a Smithsonian exhibition on sounds of religion at the MSU Museum. 

“Listening for religion directs our attention to the things that religious people and communities do, not just what they believe. It brings us into formal spaces and times of religious life, as well as into more mundane moments of everyday practice, such as people chatting while preparing food for a religious festival or the sounds of removing shoes before entering a worship space. Paying attention to religious sounds can serve as a reminder that religious practice is subjective, often spontaneous and shaped by participants — it takes place in particular moments and spaces.”

Chris Frilingos, professor of religious studies in the Department of Religious Studies in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters, is an expert on biblical literature and early Christianity. He can discuss the importance of knowing the history of the holidays we celebrate.

Christmas can be both a religious and secular holiday. Many people who celebrate Christmas might not think about it as a religious celebration, but rather a time to get together with family, share a meal and give gifts. It’s also important for us to learn about holidays beyond Christmas. In the United States, we have so many different religions represented and practiced. Making an effort to learn more about holidays from religions and cultures other than your own is part of being a good American citizen.”

Health, emotion and relationships

Jason Moser is a professor of clinical science and cognitive neuroscience in the Department of Psychology in MSU’s College of Social Science. He is an expert in the regulation of cognition, emotion and behavior — and his work lies at the intersection of clinical, cognitive neuroscience, social-personality and developmental research.

“During this time, it’s important to keep balance in mind. The best way to maintain balance is to be aware of how you are doing by checking in on yourself and keeping up with the habits that help you stay mentally and physically healthy. Literally jotting down notes each day about what just happened, what you’re thinking and feeling, and what you’re doing about it can offer important insights into how to make adjustments to either amplify positive moments or reduce the strain of more negative ones. You can do this on paper or your phone — just do it in the moment. When you make these notes about difficult situations, try writing them in the third or second person (e.g., Jason is feeling frustrated that people aren’t getting along), which helps you get some distance like you are taking notes for a friend and can more easily access good advice for moving forward.”

Elizabeth Dorrance Hall is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences and she manages MSU’s Family Communication and Relationships Lab. She is an expert in family communication processes and other close relationships and understanding the evolution of these relationships.

“Communicating across difference is challenging, but the holidays do not have to be uncomfortable. Focus on what you do have in common with your family members. Similarity is the foundation of most relationships. Because family relationships are “built in” instead of started from scratch, we often take for granted what we have in common. Plan activities around shared interests and be sure to catch up with your cousin who has similar tastes in TV or books. If you don’t have much in common, be curious and take an interest in their lives. What does their day-to-day look like at work? Ask questions and really listen to their answers.”

Read about these strategies from Hall on MSUToday.

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