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Nov. 25, 2002


The last time Rick Halperin spent Christmas at a Nazi death camp, he remembered it was just him and two guards standing around on a bitter cold day. This year, Halperin, an SMU history professor who teaches a class on human rights, plans to bring a group of 10 to visit the Polish death camps. They leave Dec. 21 for a tour of six death camps and other sites, including the Warsaw Ghetto and the Polish cities of Krakow and Warsaw. On Christmas Day, they are planning to be at Majdanek death camp, in Lublin, Poland, where 360,000 people died during the Holocaust. Why visit death camps at Christmas? "I need to go to these places and pay my respects to those who perished and those who triumphed," Halperin said. "Christmas is a good time to do this because even if you do it just once, you will always think back to that time of year, and you will always remember." Since 1996, Halperin has been traveling alone to Europe to visit Holocaust sites in part to collect research for his class. He videotapes scenes of concentration and death camps as well as villages where Nazi atrocities were committed. The videotapes are used in his class, "The Struggle for Human Rights," which he teaches four times a year. This is the first time that Halperin will be traveling with a group, most of whom are SMU faculty and staff. None of the others have been to the sites before.


The retail outlook this holiday season is uncertain, according to Daniel Howard, chair of the Marketing Department at SMU's Cox School of Business. Howard said consumer confidence was down to a nine-year low in October, although some expect that it will rise. Howard said several factors are contributing to this consumer uncertainty, including international problems, unemployment, the effects of the West Coast port slowdown and a general feeling of economic frustration over the lack of the start of another growth cycle.

"Holiday sales will be lackluster because of the general domestic economic conditions and international uncertainties," Howard said. "Consumers of all incomes listen to the news and pay attention to events, and those factors influence their spending patterns and amounts.

However, the National Retail Federation and analysts with Ernst and Young are expecting retail sales to rise to about 4 percent from last year. If we achieve half of that figure, I will be happy and somewhat surprised."

Last year, Howard said holiday sales accounted for 23 percent of overall retail sales and some retailers make more than half their yearly revenue during the holiday season. "Keep in mind that people do not want to be caught short of cash in times of crises," he said. "The feeling of potential and continuing problems, both economic and international, seems ever present at the moment. Retailers can benefit by encouraging people to shop early this year to get products that might not be available later, by using large discounts on popular items, and by thinking like consumers." Howard predicts that discount stores will be the biggest winners in terms of sales this holiday season.


SMU will host its 25th annual Celebration of Lights, a 30-minute outdoor celebration that takes place amid a sea of 100,000 tiny white lights illuminating the center of the campus. The columns of Dallas Hall and surrounding trees will be lighted, and rows of luminarias will line the campus walkways. The public is welcome to join the SMU community at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 for a night of caroling and holiday performances by a student concert choir and soloists, accompanied by a brass quintet. SMU President R. Gerald Turner will read the Christmas story from the New Testament. Before the close of the celebration, the SMU Christmas tree will be lighted. The original Celebration of Lights in 1977 started as a way for students to thank university donors and spread holiday cheer. The set of 5,000 lights ordered for the first celebration came with an unpleasant surprise -- bright orange bulbs. Students on the Student Foundation Hilltop Committee, which puts on the annual celebration, replaced each orange bulb by hand with a white bulb.


A rare diary by the 19th-century adventurer Baldwin Möllhausen tells of a Christmas Eve spent in the mountain west. The diary and other first edition books by Möllhausen - known as the "German James Fenimore Cooper" - are part of SMU's DeGolyer Library's collection of Western Americana. Möllhausen recorded his experiences on the frontier both in fiction and in personal accounts. He went West not as a writer, but as an illustrator and naturalist. He drew topographical views and compiled natural history and ethnographic collections for the U.S. government, the Smithsonian Institution and the Prussian Royal Collections. In the fall of 1853, he traveled with 89 men from New Mexico to California to survey a railroad route along the 35th parallel. The men included Army officers, soldiers, guides, scientists, servants and adventurers. On Christmas Eve, they set camp in the snowy mountains east of Flagstaff, Ariz. Some of the men had managed to safeguard a cache of eggs, and others had what Möllhausen called "well-preserved bottles of that which makes glad the heart of traveling men." The camp's cook prepared a holiday punch and all the men were ordered to bring their tin cups to the officer's tent. Some of the Hispanic expedition members made fireworks from the resin of fallen pine trees. Two men who had lived with the Navajos performed a Navajo dance. The entire party spent the evening singing songs and telling stories. This multicultural Christmas Eve celebration is recorded in notes Möllhausen kept on the journey, which were later published in two volumes and contain recollections of his other western travels. Diary of a Journey from the Mississippi to the Coasts of the Pacific was published in 1858. He would go on to write seven collections of short stories and 39 novels.