By Ovunc Kutlu
ISTANBUL (AA) - Inflation in the US has become the "Grinch" this holiday season as it steals the Christmas hopes of Americans with rising prices and high costs from food to transportation and many other items.
The Grinch, a character created in 1957 by Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as children's book writer Dr. Seuss, attempted to "steal" Christmas by secretly swiping gifts and decorations, was embodied this year in the form of inflation, eating away a significant portion of Americans' ability to buy goods and services.
Prices are up for almost all Christmas items, from trees to decorations to gifts, and especially for Christmas dinner as food prices are still on the rise.
For those who plan to travel to see their loved ones, the cost of transportation is also greater than last year due to high gasoline prices and airfares. Meanwhile, many parts of the US will be receiving a present from mother nature -- a severe winter storm -- on Christmas Day.
- Trees and decorations
One of Christmas' mainstays is the decorated evergreen, with 75% of US households, or 94 million homes, displaying a tree last year, according to the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA).
Of the trees displayed in 2021, 84% were artificial and 16% farm-grown, while almost 6.5 million households had one or both.
The median cost of a farm-grown Christmas tree was $69.50 in 2021 but is expected to be $74.29 this year, an increase of 6.9%, showed figures released by ACTA.
This is despite a government program by the US Forest Service offering free Christmas trees to those who would harvest them from designated forests.
"Harvesting a Christmas tree is open and available to everyone even though not every national forest and grassland participates in the Christmas tree program," the agency said on its website, noting that it had issued more than 200,000 permits nationwide in 2020.
Decorations for the trees have also become costlier. American consumers spent an average of $231 on holiday decorations in 2021 and are expected to dish out $247 this year for a rise of 2.5%.
Christmas lights saw an annual price increase of 15% to an average of $13, while the average price of wreaths stands at $100 -- up 15% from last year.
- Dinner costs jump with high food prices
Though US consumer prices rose annually by 7.1% in November, easing from a 7.7% gain in October and sharply declining from a record yearly gain of 9.1% in June, food prices are still on the rise to the detriment of Christmas dinner tables.
The price of flour and bread increased 25% and 16% annually this year, respectively, and potatoes were up 16%, butter at 27%, and eggs a whopping 49%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Uncooked poultry including turkey, the most important dish of Christmas dinner and Thanksgiving, was up almost 18% in November year-on-year, while the price of chicken soared by more than 13%.
Cookies, crackers, pies, tarts, and frozen bakery products all saw an annual gain of more than 19%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed.
On average, the cost of a Christmas dinner is expected to be around $60.3, which is up 16.4% from last year, according to consumer goods pricing firm Datasembly.
- Travel costs up with airlines, diesel
Airline costs have also soared over the past year, with tickets jumping 25% annually, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, marking the biggest annual gain in the bank's index since 1989.
On top of high airline costs, a severe winter storm has made travel plans even more difficult for those who wish to see loved ones on Christmas Eve, Saturday, Dec. 24.
The National Weather Service issued a warning that said more than 200 million people, or 60% of the US population, were under some form of winter weather warning or advisory.
US airlines had already canceled more than 7,000 flights, while delays totaled 16,444 as of Friday, according to data from the flight tracking site, FlightAware. There were over 6,000 canceled flights on Thursday and more than 27,000 total delays.
Passengers also faced longer wait times at gates and disruptions across the nation's busiest airports, from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson and Chicago's O'Hare to Dallas' Forth Worth and New York's John F. Kennedy.
For those planning to drive, gasoline prices are hovering above $3 per gallon (3.785 liters), according to data from the American Automobile Association (AAA).
The price of gasoline, for all types, is up 10.1% in November, compared to the same month a year ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed. The price of new vehicles was up 7.2% year-on-year.
Long-distance travelers that prefer diesel will see the national average at $4.697 per gallon, which is up a massive 31.3% from $3.578 per gallon a year ago, according to AAA figures on Friday.