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How I Found the Spirit of Christmas

Interview with Ted Gup, author of "A Secret Gift"

Q. What are some of the differences between this recession and the Great Depression?

A. One of the profound differences between then and today is that there are myriad nets to catch us, or at least to break the fall. There was no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation when this story occurred, there was no Social Security, there was no unemployment [compensation], no Medicaid — none of the many things that actually came into being largely because of the suffering that these people experienced.

Q. What impact would you like this book to have?

A. I don't want these people to be forgotten. This is the story of Canton, Ohio, but also the story of every town in America in this period. This book may create something of a "no-whine" zone. There are many people that are hurting today. But the difficulties that many Americans face today are very different not just in degree, but in kind. People in 1933 were not fretting because their 401(k)s took a haircut — they faced a padlock on their bank and the loss of a life savings. When I started this book, I asked the descendants in their 80s or 90s if, as children, they ever went to bed hungry. I stopped asking that question early on because the response was, "I don't remember not going to bed hungry." We can draw strength from that knowledge and their examples. The character, self-sacrifice and the community coming together provide exemplars for today.

Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a contributing editor at the Columbia Journalism Review.

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