Patric Pera has a picture of himself last Christmas Eve, spending the holiday the only way he could. "I was asleep on the couch," he says.

The 26-year-old Lutheran, who is married and the father of two sons, had just come off a month-long stint of 80-hour weeks as manager of a Target store. "My crew and I had only four days off between Thanksgiving and New Year's," he says. "My wife is very supportive. She knows what's coming."

She also knows he'll be home Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. "We get to the children's service Christmas Eve and to the midnight service to hear my dad preach," says Pera, the son of a Lutheran pastor. "We try to keep the holidays holy.'

Keeping the holidays holy, a challenge for most Christians, is even harder for those on the business side of the cash register. In our consumer-driven culture, the incomes of people who work in retail depend heavily on holiday sales. But at the very time their jobs demand the most from them, their faith pulls them in another direction. While the world teaches "Sell, sell; buy, buy," the church preaches "Pare down, simplify. Make Christ the center of Christmas."

Talk about a conflict. Can you keep store and still keep Christmas?

"I don't think there's a clear-cut answer to that," Pera says. "It's a juggling act."

Interviewed while training to become manager of a Target superstore, he was already keeping several balls in the air preparing to move his family to Iowa so he could take over the Mason City store in time for the Christmas rush.

"It takes a special breed to work in retail during the holidays. I thrive on the adrenaline and sense of urgency."

Doing your best "Everyone wants to succeed," he says. "That's the way my parents raised me, with pride and a work ethic. You do your job, do your devotions and do the best you can."

Doing the best you can in your faith and work life is a skill Michael Eubank has been polishing for more than a decade, just as he polishes precious gems and metals in his Cedarburg, Wis., jewelry store.

"Being a Christian entrepreneur you always have to keep in mind what Christ would do. Sometimes that becomes hard. You do have to make a living. You do have to support your family," says Eubank, 50, who is married and the father of three.

He and his wife, Beth, operate Jewelry Works of Cedarburg. Eubank, a designer and goldsmith, runs the store and crafts the custom-made jewelry. His wife designs jewelry part time and teaches at a Lutheran school in Milwaukee.

The Christmas holidays generate the lion's share of annual revenue.

"The way I look at it, if we have a good Christmas we can give that much more to the church," Eubank said.

But his ministry extends beyond money. "There's too much emphasis on buy, buy, buy. It's not the price of a gift, it's the thought behind it," he says. "We offer merchandise at various price points and treat a $5 sale like a $500 sale. It's a good feeling to give customers a good deal."

Patience for the frazzled Don Jutila sees and seizes the opportunity to express his faith often in his work life, demonstrating that it's not what you do for a living but how you do it. Jutila, a 33-year-old husband and father of four, manages two Circuit City stores in Spokane, Wash.

"This will be my 15th holiday season working in retail," he says. "Each year I wonder why I put so much time and effort into a job -- and business -- that encourages our society to focus on all the wrong reasons we celebrate Christmas. Many times I've thought of finding work that doesn't encourage the material side of Christmas. "After much prayer and conversation with others in my congregation, I came to the conclusion that there was a reason God gave me the gifts to do my job well. It was so I could work among all those people who feed on the material frenzy of the holiday season and share the real reason we celebrate Christmas: the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ."

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