By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer

The holiday season is quickly approaching and this year many people are facing tough economic times. According to a survey conducted by ING Direct over the summer, half of Americans - 47 percent - plan to spend less than $300 on gifts this year.

While that may be bad news for retailers, it's good news for people like self-proclaimed "Inspired Elf" John Hagerman of Wayzata, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. It means he'll have an easier job of spreading the word about the true meaning of Christmas. "Not having a lot of money to spend forces people to slow down and think about what Christmas is really about - giving, not getting," he says.

Hagerman learned that lesson well from his mother, Marilyn Dean Hagerman. As a single mom raising three young boys, she faced a lot of challenges, but when it came time for Christmas, she always managed to make the holiday magical. "It wasn't until my adult years when I started raising a family of my own that I truly understood the amazing feat she had accomplished. We didn't have a lot of money back then, but she made the holiday come to life by instilling upon us kids the true spirit of Christmas," says Hagerman.

Hagerman's mother passed away in 2003 but her spirit will live on through John's latest venture, a book he wrote in his mother's honor to help people discover fresh ways to keep hope, the joy of Christmas and the magic of Santa living and vibrant for everyone.

101 Ways to Keep the Spirit of Santa Alive (A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Lovers of Christmas Everywhere) was recently published through CreateSpace, a subsidiary of, Inc., by Inspired Elf Publishing of Wayzata. The book begins with a beautiful dedication from John to his mother, then gets down to business.

After offering a well researched look at the history of Santa Claus, the Inspired Elf offers his advice for keeping the magic alive. While a number of the ideas, such as taking the family on a holiday light tour and leaving a plate of milk and cookies out for Santa are fairly obvious, a good majority of the 101 tips in the book are clever and unique. Among the tips sure to both impress and inspire parents:

* How to get the kids excited about helping Santa do his work - Give a gift anonymously in Santa's name, sign up to be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, serve food at a shelter.

* How to prove to the kids that Santa really did come, in other words, where to look for evidence - Videotape Santa inside your home, look for reindeer poop in the yard, seek out evidence that the reindeer ate the food left for them.

"Hagerman's thoughtful suggestions for keeping Santa alive are creative and practical for everyone. He reminds us that Santa is about giving, love and joy. What better life lessons can we provide our children?" says Niki Danou, a Second Grade teacher and mother.

"These ideas capture the Spirit of Santa with insight, humor and fun. Creative, practical, and inspiring," adds Dave Parker, Principal of Groveland Elementary School.

Learn more about this inspirational project at

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