Economic indicators do not always include spending.
There are many types of indicators that have a larger field approach or which focus on the government. Interest rates and GDP are just two examples.
A targeted means of calculating holiday spending is polls, like the Gallup holiday spending poll. There are many economic indicators, most of which the average consumer never hears of. Some of these reflect holiday sales as part of monthly or quarterly reports, for instance, the Advance Monthly Retail Trade Report and the Chain Store Sales Index.
Economic Indicators, list: http://www.nber.org/releases/title.html
I have to agree with accessteacher. I recall many reports about the massive amounts of money that Americans were spending on Christmas this year. Statistics stated that the amount spent was up this year (2011-2012). That being said, the statistics do not say what amount was cash and what amount was credit. I believe that it would make a great difference if those details were known or considered.
Cash on hand is a much better gauge of the financial state of America, not their ability to charge.
Consumer spending, a term frequently used by the news media, reflects just one aspect of the economy. This is actually observing the economy through a Keynesian lens, where how quickly money can be circulated through the economy reflects the economy's state of health.
It could be just as useful (although non-Keynesian in economic philosophy) to examine the rate of personal savings as an economic indicator instead of spending.
The most widely published set of statistics that measures the overall performance of the U.S. economy is the Gross Domestic Product. In addition, there are several other sets of economic indicator data information that are collected in the U.S. This data primarily monitors a specific segment of the economy such as holiday spending patterns, cash totals and how they relate to the overall economy. Economic indicators are usually divided into three categories; leading, coincident, and lagging. Leading indicators are the areas that show movement which is ahead of the general economy. Coincident indicators usually move along with the economy, and lagging indicators move behind the general state of the economy. Holiday spending in the U.S. is measured by how all three economic indicators match up to the previous year including the overall G.D.P.
A massive indicator of the health of the economy is the amount of expenditure during the months of December in the run up to Christmas and then in January during the January sales. This is a key way that analysts and economic thinkers consider the health of the economy and whether or not we are in a recession.
Here's the sort of thing that always confuses me about economic statistics. The first article claims that holiday spending was flat; the second one claims that it was very high.
November and December economic information is always going to be inflated. Most of the added jobs are seasonal, and so is the extra spending. However, they normally compare the numbers from one year to the next. Last year's numbers would be inflated too.
I assume that you are asking about the economic indicator known as Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE). PCE includes all spending that is done by consumers, regardless of whether it is done in the holiday season or at some other time. Of course, the best way to use this is to look at it in comparison to the PCE at the same time in other years so you are not fooled by any seasonal effects.