By Ron VandenBoom
The live nativity scene on the lawn of Van Orsdel Methodist Church is a tradition that Betty and Ron Knudson hope to make an annual event at Havre's Christmas Stroll.
This will be the second year the Knudsons have organized a live nativity scene at the Church.
"It is a one time only two-hour display," Betty Knudson said.
The nativity scene will be held Saturday, Nov. 27, from 5-7 p.m.
It's a return to what Betty Knudson said she feels is the true meaning of Christmas.
More than 50 volunteers have agreed to donate their time to play one of the characters in the scene and Pam and Steve Parsons from Chinook have generously donated some of their animals for the project.
"We will use the llamas for camels," Knudson said, adding that a miniature donkey was also scheduled to make an appearance. Britt Beemer, chairman of the consulting firm America's Research Group in Charleston, S.C. ''Where they find the better deal is where they might actually make the purchase.''
With consumer confidence remaining strong, unemployment levels at 30-year lows and stock prices continuing to climb, expectations are high for this year. Estimates are that Americans will spend at least an average of $500 per family.
Analysts project sales at traditional stores will rise 5 percent to 6 percent from last year, while online sales are expected to at least double from December 1998.
But retailers have learned that bold forecasts aren't always on target. With shoppers more fickle today than ever before, anything -- from a downturn in the stock market to unusual weather -- can keep them home.
''We had a great start to this year, but we've seen spending slow down a little bit and no one is sure what that will mean for this holiday season,'' said Michael Niemira, a retail analyst at Bank of Toyko-Mitsubishi in New York.
In addition, shop owners also are coming under pressure from the growth in popularity of the Internet. While e-retailers only tally a fraction of all holiday sales, traditional merchants don't want to lose too much business to their Web rivals.
Last year, the $3 billion in online holiday sales accounted for less than 2 percent of all retail activity. But Internet businesses are spending hundreds of millions in advertising this season to lure shoppers to their sites.