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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  December 24, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PST

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rob and i will be back with more local news at 6:00. have a good night.
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it is still fragile economy and we have found ourselves this year again focusing on what americans are spending and what retailers are earning as important bellwethers in the nation's recovery. with christmas eve falling on a saturday and mostly good weather around the country, today millions found the opportunity for one last full day of shopping. a perfect storm of procrastinators, bargain hunters, and stores eager for their business. out among the last-minute shoppers is nbc's ron mott in new york city's busy herald square. set the scene for us tonight. >> reporter: good evening. the countdown is well under way
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tonight. aisles are absolutely packed at this macy's. cash registers are ringing. in just a few short hours so, too, will the closing bells at the nation's stores. the nationwide shopping marathon americans started running thanksgiving night is finally in the homestretch. d-day for online deliveries. crunch time for those ready to brave crushing crowds. >> it's just way, way too crowded and parking is a mess. but, you know, you got to do what you got to do. >> reporter: the finish line ness sight after a month-long shopping blitz with some people in a bit of denial about the calendar. >> i don't consider this waiting until last minute. i think i've always waited until the 23rd or 24th to get into the spirit. >> reporter: a spirit retailers have targeted with aggressive promotions especially focused on lowering last-minute shoppers with deep discounts. and more than a few consumers are taking advantage. 41% are saying they plan to shop in the final days before christmas from wednesday through today. that push may account for as much as 20% of the $469.1
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billion retailers are expected to haul in during the season. the real winters of this mad dash? >> consumers are the big winners this holiday season. they only spent if the deals were significant 50% or 60% off. retailers, unfortunately, are finding that they have to sacrifice profits for revenue. >> reporter: not all shoppers though are as price sensitive. many of the procrastinators it turns out are men on the hunt in the 11th hour not so much for bargains but simply to avoid going home empty handed. >> my sons, my mother, my aunt, the family. terrible. >> reporter: in atlanta, men and women were filling up the trunk with toys at 3:00 in the morning. >> i work in retail and that is the only time i can shop. >> reporter: some chains extended hours or stayed open around the clock to meet demand. >> i got something from apple for my wife that she was -- she didn't know she wanted but she'll know once i give it to her. >> have you been good? >> reporter: now comes a day of rest before shoppers and
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shopping carts start rolling again. time for after christmas sales. it has been a busy shopping season. retailers are bracing for an even busier return season. americans expecting to return a record $46 billion worth of merchandise and experts caution if you go, go prepared. retailers may tighten their return policies just a bit. lester? >> ron mott. a lot of company out there. thanks. there. clear skies and few reports of snow are making things a bit easier for those last-minute holiday shoppers. in fact, it's looking like a dry christmas. kim cunningham is tracking it all at the weather channel headquarters. kim, where's the snow? >> i'll tell you what, it's hard to find at in point. i'll tell you, the rockies doing good, but the rest of the country, if you go back five years ago, you looked about the same five years ago. but last year at this time, check this out, we had a lot in the northeast, minneapolis is digging out from, what, 17 inch
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fz snow at the metrodome collapsing, folks are golfing on christmas eve in minneapolis, just to give you an idea of how snow-starved we are in many areas. a lot of folks calling this the brown christmas. look at the rockies, plenty of snow. get to the rockies and get some skiing in. looks fantastic. now, the northeast a little different for skiers. we're looking at a deficit. but i want you to know it is cold enough to make snow so don't not go because of that. why have we been so snow-starved? because the temperatures have been so warm. the cold air, lester, is in siberia, nowhere close to the u.s. >> not a bad place for you, some would say. kim, thanks very much. to russia, mass protests in the streets of moscow today and they got a big backer in the last leader of russia, kov shauf asking for putin to resign.
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>> reporter: they braved the bitter cold and filled an avenue which holds 100,000 people. a street protest unseen since the fall of the soviet union, even bigger than the one two weeks ago, with many flags and political creeds but one message -- they want vladimir putin out of power. the government is openly lying to us, said this protestor. these were once putin's power base, mostly young middle class russians. but the mood changed overnight when report of massive vote fraud gave putin's p party a slim majority. >> he didn't understand that if you so openly had demonstrate that nobody's opinion matters, that might disturb even the most loyal. >> reporter: russians like 30-year-old architect ganucha, the first post-soviet generation that wasn't brainwashed in
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school. >> for me, country was always free. >> reporter: he prospered under putin until the recession hit, but it's the electoral cheating that makes him angry. it's already being called a new chapter in soviet had history which began over the kremlin 20 years ago tomorrow. then there were great hopes, but instead the weak and mer had curiel boris yeltsin led the nation through a decade of chao chaos. some welcomed putin with open arms. >> we finally saw a man who was sane. >> reporter: but who came to rule over his people like a czar. protestors say they'll keep the pressure on putin, that he could be beaten in march presidential elections if they are free and fair. but there are also rumblings about a russian spring. if putin wins those as well. a nation with a turbulent history facing more trouble
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ahead. now to the uk where tonight the royal family is celebrating christmas eve without its patriar patriarch, prince phillip. the duke of eden borough rhame s -- remains hospitalized. >> reporter: the royal family united in concern. this morning the queen and her children paid a visit to prince quill lip in the hospital. prince charles and his wife and the royal patient was in good spirits flts the prince has always been healthy, but he was airlifted to the hospital yesterday. the hospital confirmed he went under surgery where a balloon was inserted to remove blockages. this family ran into the royals at the hospital. >> they did look concerned, yes are. they were concerned. and obviously it's a big thing,
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isn't it? but it was nice to see them all together as a family. >> the queen and prince phillip have been married for 64 years. he is britain's longest serving consort, a role to which he is devoted, always a few steps behind, always the supporter. she paid tribute to her had husband had on their 50th wedding anniversary. >> he is someone who doesn't take easily the compliments but he has quite simply been my strength and stay all these years. >> reporter: at the age of 90, he is hardly slowed down. this year alone accompanying the queen on an 11-dye day tour of australia. >> the duke of eden borrow carries out hundreds of engagements. he can't carry on the same pace, he realizes. >> reporter: this was to be a special family christmas as the royals welcome their newest
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member, princess kate. tonight it's unknown if prince phillip will be able to join them, but they'll continue to celebrate the holidays as planned. nbc news, london. to president are deshl politics now. just ten days from the iowa caucuses, it's virginia getting much of the attention on the campaign trail today. gop officials say newt gingrich has failed to gather the required 10,000 signatures to get on the ballot in virginia. his adopted home state. it's a blow to the gingrich campaign as it prepares for a primary battle with mitt romney in which every delegate could be pivotal. meanwhile, after delaying his vacation for a few days, president obama wasted into time getting out of washington last night and reuniting with his family in hawaii. that's where we find kristen welker. tough duty, kristen. >> reporter: sure is, lester. well, as you know, presidential vacations can get pretty busy. president obama is undoubtedly hoping that this one stays calm because he faces a tough
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reelection battle when he heads home. president obama arrived in honolulu friday evening, looking relaxed and greeted by a pretty sizeable crowd. his vacation was delayed by a week because of that fight over the payroll tax cut extension. ultimately the battle proved to be a legislative victory for mr. obama. that's because ultimately republicans wound up backing down. they ultimately agreed to pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut. so the bill meanings that the average american family will save about $1,000 in taxes this year. in the meantime, the president and first lady delivered their annual holiday message, not focussed on the gridlock in washington but rather those who serve our country. >> let's take a moment to give thanks for their service, for their family'ses service, for our veterans' service. let's say a pray fprayer for al of the troops standing post all over the world. >> reporter: now, the president took in a game of golf today. we will likely see some more of
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that as well as some family beach time, maybe some trips to get some had hawaiian ice. the first family is staying in a secluded residence here on the island of oahu. lester? >> all right, kristen welker. thanks. tonight in the face of international criticism over its nuclear program, iran has begun a ten-day show of strength in international waters off its coast. war games designed to show off tehran's abilities. it could bring iranian ships close to u.s. navy ships in the area. it is of course christmas eve, which means midnight mass at the vatican, taking place at 10:00 this year, continuing on the tradition. it allows the 84-year-old pope a good night's sleep before his address tomorrow at st. peter's square. in the birthplace of jesus, tens of thousands have descended on bethlehem, the highest turnout in a decade.
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nbc's martin fletcher is there. >> reporter: midnight mass in the birthplace of christ. bethlehem traditional christmas message of peace for all mankind heard live around the world. 50,000 pilgrims expected in manger square. >> it's a great place to spend christmas. it's where christmas began. we feel blessed to be here. >> reporter: the christians aren't alone. the muslims call to prayer can't be ignored. there are far more mosques in bethlehem than churches. three out of four people who live here are muslims. these girls show off their traditional dress. >> merry christmas! >> reporter: this is a day of great celebration here, of course, by there's one thing the people of bethlehem can never forget -- they're surrounded by a wall. the wall which israel said it built to stop terrorists looms over much of the town. even the catholic leader in the
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holy land come to preside over christmas in bethlehem must pass through it. and while the 50-foot christmas tree symbolizes peace, ba oshar builds a different kind of tree. >> it's christmastime, time to raise our voice. >> reporter: an israeli watch tower, grenades, tear gas canisters, the key, she says the key to the homeland and symbolizing a home for the refugees. >> it's part of our therapy to speak about it and see it visually. >> reporter: christmas in bethlehem, for some a platform for propaganda, for most a day of joy and hope. martin fletcher, nbc news, bethlehem. up next -- as "nightly news" continues on this christmas eve, an amazing story that some people call a christmas miracle. it's about a young man just
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hours away from being taken off life support who is instead spending the holidays with his family. later, many happy returns. a lot of kids getting exactly what had they've been wishing for.
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we're back now with an amazing story of survival. a 21-year-old college student in arizona fell into a coma after an accident that killed two of his friends. when all hope appeared to be lost, his family prepared themselves to let him go. until one night something extraordinary happened. we get his story tonight from nbc's kerry sanders. >> reporter: a scene some are calling a christmas miracle, sam schmidt walking on his own two feet and talking. >> i feel better. i've been called a miracle a few times. >> reporter: sam, a college student, had suffered a traumatic brain aneurysm after a car crash in october, which left him in a deep coma. his mom rushed him to the emergency room. >> i said, sam, stay strong and
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fight hard. >> reporter: with other life threatening injuries, sam was flown to phoenix for surgery. >> the odds of him making it were very slim. >> reporter: although the surgery saved his life, sam remained comatose and with no response. doctors discussed the dreaded option of taking him off life support, but dr. spetzler asked the family to wait one more week before deciding. that night, sam stunned everyone by following a command, holding up his two fingers. >> that may not seem like a lot to you, but in fact, to be able to hold up two fingers, means they're receiving the signal. >> reporter: a crucial sign that sam's brain was still functioning. >> it is an incredible loop that shows you the ability of that brain to function. and that was like the fireworks going off. >> he came in and looked at me with nobody else and he said, we made the right decision. and i never looked back. >> reporter: sam is now doing
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intensive physical therapy. >> most important to him is just getting back to his normal life. >> reporter: and that's exactly what sam is looking forward to. and although sam has a long road ahead, he'll spend this christmas with his family, the best gift ever for him and his loved ones. kerry sanders, nbc news. when we come back, reindeer games. the family that takes the annual christmas card to a whole new level.
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it's a burning question on the minds of millions of kids tonight -- where's santa? you can see the big guy right here making his way around the world, and the norad santa tracking operation, the military folks who keep a look out for hostile aircraft, say they answered thousands of calls today. you you can track santa's every move on our website, if there were an olympic game for coming up with unique christmas cards, this next family would be the odds-on favorite for gold. each year they keep their eager recipients in suspense, going the extra mile to take seasons greetings into the stratosphere.
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here'is nbc's kevin tibbles. >> reporter: perched as always this time of year by her sewing machine, sue johnson prepares the next big secret. how do you come up with the ideas each year? >> sometimes they come to me in dreams. or my husband refers to them as nightmares. >> reporter: for nearly two decades, sue's hand-made the costumes and cajoled her family into posing for christmas cards that take elaborate to the extreme. there was the choir year, the elf year, the toy soldier year. friends now clamor for them, even friends of friends want to see what she's come up with. and no one knows before the white envelope drops into the mailbox. >> we complain, but the reality of it is, is when we get together to do it, we all really have a good time doing it together as a family. ♪ >> reporter: but wait, there's
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more. the christmas bulb year, the poinsettia year, the gingerbread year. >> it is what it is. there's not really any getting out of it. you're in this family, you're in the christmas card. >> our family is -- it maintains a closeness, you know? it is a wonderful tradition. ♪ you better watch out >> reporter: now sue boasts of two son-in-laws, andy, who can be bribed apparently. >> as long as i get the cookies with the hershey kisses on them and a couple of cold beers, i'll dress up to whatever you want. >> reporter: and newcomer mike, who sue, as you'll soon find out, has plans for. >> i do feel very, very special. >> reporter: and viola, a sneak preview of this year's masterpiece. sue and rob johnson as mrs. claus and santa, and all the kids as reindeer. mike, the newbie, of course, is rudolph. >> okay. you ready? >> i was never ready for this.
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>> at least you didn't have to wear makeup. >> well, this is a close second. >> reporter: are you already thinking about next year? >> oh, yes. >> reporter: what's it going to be? >> no, can't tell you. >> reporter: whisper it. >> can't tell you. >> reporter: such a welcoming family, even allowing a complete stranger to put on the hooves, an interloper and antler-loper. >> merry christmas. >> reporter: merry christmas to you, kevin tibbles, nbc news, eagan, minnesota. up next, the hottest gift of the year, the holiday surprise.
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a happy homecoming today in
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ft. hood, texas, some of the final combat troops out of iraq reuniting with their families on this christmas eve. and it's been a season of joyous reunions like that one, a sea of soldiers across the country returning from war, some of them pulling off one more secret mission for their families. here's nbc's kristen dahlgren. >> reporter: in a season full of holiday wishes -- >> oh, my gosh! daddy! >> reporter: -- this year is bringing some extra special delivery, with tens of thousands of troops returning home, 10-year-old amber mackey in iowa is one of many kids -- >> you miss me? just a little? >> reporter: -- getting the gift they've been dreaming of. >> dad. >> your dad? >> reporter: for the kids, the hugs are like holiday miracles. but, for the troops, they've
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become covert operations. >> my heart is -- >> reporter: in california, 4-year-old stephanie randall was at her dance recital when her dad brett stole the show. >> daddy! >> reporter: it wasn't just stephanie who was shocked. mom jennifer had no idea either. >> hi, baby. >> reporter: the homecoming surprise has become one of the most popular presents this year. it can take weeks to plan and pull off, but even santa couldn't do it better. >> i was so shocked. it's the best christmas ever right now. >> reporter: of course, after months away from home, the moments are just as special for the men and women in uniform. >> it's just cloud nine right now. >> reporter: more and more ending their overseas service with a surprise. >> daddy!
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>> wow. no other way to describe how amazing this is. >> reporter: and in the process -- >> hi, ma. >> reporter: -- bringing a little holiday magic into all of our lives. kristen dahlgren, nbc news, los angeles. >> can't top that so we'll say that's it for "nbc nightly news" for this christmas eve. i'm lester holt reporting from new york. i'll see you tomorrow morning on "today" and then right back here tomorrow evening. merry christmas, everyone. tomorrow evening. merry christmas, everyone. and good night. -- captions by vitac -- good evening. we begin on this christmas eve with the last-minute dash to


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