Christian Groups Looking for ‘Christmas’

Discussion
Dec 07, 2009
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

At least two Christian
organizations are outing retailers for using generic messages like “Season’s
Greetings,” “Happy Holidays,” and “Winter Holiday” instead of “Christmas” in
their holiday messages.

Focus Action, an evangelical
group based on Colorado Springs, has launched a website, StandforChristmas.com,
that enables shoppers to rate a list of 30 retailers on how “Christmas-Friendly” they
are. So far, the retailers with the highest “friendly” ratings include Bass
Pro Shops (97 percent), Kmart (87 percent), Lands’ End (84 percent), Sears,
(77 percent) and Target (74 percent). Among those with low Christmas-friendly
ratings are The Gap (2 percent), Best Buy (7 percent), Borders (8 percent),
Old Navy (13 percent), and Toys “R” Us (20 percent).

The group has been
rating retailers for two years, but this is the first year it allowed the public
to vote.

Target hangs holiday
banners inscribed with “Christmas” in its stores, and at Target.com there is
a shopping section called “Christmas at Target.” But company spokeswoman Kelly
Basgen told The Colorado Springs Gazette that the chain also features
holiday-neutral language.

“We know that Christmas
is important to many of our guests,” she said, “but we also want to be inclusive
and sensitive to everyone.”

Meanwhile, The American
Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., on November 10 called for a ban
on The Gap Inc. for not using the word ‘Christmas’ in its advertising at Gap,
Old Navy and Banana Republic.

“It’s not just a ‘winter
holiday,'” said AFA President Tim Wildmon at the time. “For millions of Americans,
the giving and receiving of gifts is in honor of the One who gave Himself.”

The
AFA ended its boycott on December 1 after Gap aired an an “unambiguous” Christmas
ad over Thanksgiving weekend. But it has still come out with a “Naughty or
Nice?” of retailers that
avoid, ban, or use the term “Christmas” in their advertising. This year’s offenders
include Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Staples and Supervalu.
Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Sears and Lowe’s are among those being recognized as “Christmas-friendly” since
they use the word.

In an article, Brandweek noted
the challenges retailers face alienating believers as well as non-believes
in their holiday messaging.

Randy Sharp,
a special projects director at APA, told Brandweek the problem is not
just not using the word “Christmas” but when “you lump us in with other pagan
holidays, like the Winter Solstice. That is where companies offend us because
in choosing to be politically correct and not offend anyone by being generic,
they’re offending the greater segment of people.”

But Stephen Hoch, a
marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, noted
that a number of other religious and nonreligious holidays
occur in December. He also pointed
to the irony of the movement considering that the “standard criticism
of retailers during Christmas is that they’re exploiting it.”

Robert Thompson,
a Syracuse University pop culture professor, likewise thought it was “absurd” to
think retailers were downplaying Christmas. He told Brandweek, “The
state of Christmas in the U.S. is doing just fine. If anything, Christmas seems
to be winning more territory. It’s now taken over October.”

Discussion
questions: What are your thoughts on using the word “Christmas” and other
Christian themes in holiday advertising? Is the use of generic holiday
messaging by many stores overdone or necessary?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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17 Comments on "Christian Groups Looking for ‘Christmas’"


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Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 5 months ago

Retailers treat all holidays–Holy or otherwise – as a highway to reach the great mass of consuming Americans. Thus “Merry Christmas” is subdued for ethnic-sales reasons. But personally, I enjoy hearing companies and people say “Merry Christmas.”

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

It’s funny. The various groups upset that there’s no Christmas would probably be offended if the merchant used Chanukah and Kwanzaa alongside it. Just spot-checked the site and found this comment from today, “Was going to Best Buy for Christmas gifts, however when I saw Christmas was not mentioned anywhere in the store but Muslim Holidays were (as well as in their advertising) that was enough for me. I will be buying Christmas gifts elsewhere even if it costs me more” Is that really all your customers or an isolated few? I hope the latter; inclusiveness isn’t negotiable in my book.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
11 years 5 months ago

I think it has been a mistake by retailers to move away from using the word Christmas. It is a federal holiday. It is the most significant holiday in the US. This issue does not seem to exist for Halloween, so why does it exist for Christmas? The vast majority of consumers celebrate it, so embrace it. Good news, Good times, and Good will. Peace on Earth!

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 5 months ago

I too enjoy Merry Christmas greetings. I simply find it warm and inviting no matter what the faith or ethnicity of the people involved. However, my suggestion to these people is that they ask Santa for a sense of humor and unpucker their posteriors.

Besides, if you want to put the meaning back in Christmas, don’t depend on retail to do it for you. Christmas is a business and that business should be approached in whatever way works for an individual retailer.

Ian Percy
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Well it’s not that the word “Christmas” is being used to focus on the Nativity. So what exactly are the evangelical groups fighting for? Maybe it’s in the hope that even if only for a moment and however superficially someone somewhere will click on the word “Christ” on a subconscious level. That’s really not a bad strategy and in the secular world that’s called “marketing.”

We don’t pay a lot of conscious attention to most advertising but those who put it out there hope that on some subconscious level our optic nerves will carry a word or symbol into our memory and belief system.

If retailers knew beyond doubt that using the word “Christmas” would dramatically increase their sales would they do it? Heck yes. They’d put red socks on their ears if it would help. Would that be a reflection of the meaning of Christmas? Heck no.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 5 months ago

The last thing retailers want to do is alienate any customer group. Season’s Greetings sends out a generic message for the plethora of holidays that occur during Dec/Jan. This is where a strong localization program pays off. Merchants should know who is in their local selling area and chains should optimize their holiday message to reflect the local selling area.

A great example is for a Toys R Us that I was working with which was situated in a predominately Jewish area. Hannuka posters stood along side the generic Season’s Greeting POP. Sure enough, someone from the Muslim community complained as to why there was no Ramadan posters acknowledging their holiday. The customer was absolutely correct in their complaint. Why single out one holiday and offend others when Season’s Greetings works so well?

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 5 months ago

I think this is actually easier than people make it out to be. It’s either all or nothing: the bland, generic “Happy Holidays” (because like it or not, Christmas is not the only holiday that occurs in December), or all-inclusive messaging (from Hanukkah to Kwanzaa, and everything in between). Nowadays, with the fragmentation of media and audiences, I would think it gets easier and easier to target the right holiday message to the appropriate group.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 5 months ago

Retailers are only reflecting the shift (lurch) of this country into political correctness, wherein everyone is so afraid of offending anyone that we eschew celebrating anything.

For my part, I don’t understand why retailers don’t celebrate everything – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and anything else in our gloriously multi-faceted culture. Certainly the customers that celebrate these holidays will appreciate it. Those who might get upset probably don’t buy that much to begin with.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
11 years 5 months ago
My whole thought on this situation specifically and the seemingly increasing animosity generally is that the Internet has created too many “mice that roar.” The huge leverage provided by the Internet allows small groups who in their limited physical presence would be just part of the background to become “bigger than life” as they build associations with like minded individuals around the nation or the world. This is a huge challenge for the vast middle ground who believe in tolerance of everyone’s views. It also creates a real challenge for retailers, because although the retailer’s position may be neutral it can be easily portrayed as disregarding the problem, or worse. Actually, in this particular situation, the effort to separate their “crass promotion message” from the true meaning of Christmas might be construed as good thing on the part of the retailer. Instead of defending their “season’s greetings” as an attempt to accommodate many religions, they could describe it as an effort to reduce the commercialization of Christmas. Of course, then that would get misconstrued somehow.… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Another thought…Though this may take some creativity.

We resist what we don’t know. We may know what Christmas is all about but many of us haven’t a clue why others celebrate Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, etc. Too often our unfortunate knee-jerk conclusion is “they” are strange if not outright wrong and and they should “just fit it” to the American way.

What if a retailer, for example, has a sign that says “We take delight in helping to celebrate the faith of every one of our customers.” Then the signage goes on to say “Christians celebrate Christmas because…”, Jews celebrate Hanukkah because…”, “Muslims celebrate Ramadan because…”, and “Some African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa because…”

Just seems to me a little knowledge and understanding would go a long way to Peace on Earth.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Len nails this. The true meaning of Christmas will not be discovered by changing the words on a newspaper circular. Let the faithful seek this meaning in their hearts and actions, rather than in commercial speech.

I’m also troubled by the punitive nature of the “outings” and boycotts of retailers who convey a generic holiday message. Granted, those retailers may be lacking in a certain kind of marketing courage. But attempts to shame them publicly don’t seem Christian to me.

Gregg London
Guest
Gregg London
11 years 5 months ago

Though incredibly “tongue and cheek,” what would the reaction be if every retailer posted a sign that read: Merry Chrismahanakwanzaka?

I agree with those who say that the Internet has given rise to all manner of negativity.

Of course, there is a basic dichotomy here:

Business views the holiday (be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, etc.) as, well, BUSINESS (starting with Black Friday).

Main stream religion views the holiday (as above) as a celebration of historic events and spirituality.

To those groups who complain, I’m curious as to how they reconcile the “birth of the Lord” with a sale at (pick your favorite store).

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

This is a symptom of a broader problem. Retailers want their designated target market or group of shoppers to reach as many potential consumers as possible. Limiting the target market means excluding groups of potential consumers. In today’s market, there are more and more groups of smaller consumers with specific interests, attitudes, and values. Trying to appeal to one group has the potential for offending another group.

The decision of what to say during the holiday is the same problem retailers need to address in all of their marketing: to which group do they want to appeal? Even at the expense of offending another group? How do you market effectively to different groups? Some consumers are likely to be offended whatever is decided.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
11 years 5 months ago

Let’s face the facts. Despite our pretensions at being a secular country (separation of church and state and all that), the United States is a Christian country.

If a retailer wants to be inclusive and acknowledge everyone, they should stick with a generic message. Or at least put up a “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa” sign as well.

Non-Christians are used to living in our Christian country, so you won’t offend too many by ignoring us. Not all African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, so again, you’re going to be safe.

As supporters of the LGBT community have learned over the years, it never makes financial sense to cater to the AFA and its agenda. Recognizing consumers of all races, ethnicities, and religions (as well as sexual orientation) pays off in the long run, especially as America becomes more and more multicultural.

David Schulz
Guest
David Schulz
11 years 5 months ago
No one complains about retailers making use of Halloween, Valentine’s Day or Easter to promote certain types of merchandise, though each one of those holidays has a religious origin. And there is no question that Christmas originated as, and still is, a Christian holy day. Making note of it should offend no one. Likewise, making note of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa shouldn’t be offensive as long as it is used appropriately. (I think that is where some of the hyper-fundamentalist groups go overboard.) Supermarkets in numerous parts of the country feature Passover goods and I have not heard or read anywhere that this has started a religious war. In communities with significant Muslim populations, calling out Ramadan would be appropriate. There are sections in Queens, N.Y., where there were Divali (or Diwali) signage and colors used to merchandise goods (or just join in the spirit of celebration). Retailers have to give their store managers and regional or district people the latitude to make such judgment calls. Corporate advertising campaigns and chain-wide promotions are another story. Is… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 5 months ago

If it’s possible to strip the passion and special interest from this debate, the numbers suggest that between 1984 and 2008 the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian fell from 85% to 77%. Gallup

So, it would seem that retailers are simply following what appears to be the overarching societal trend. If anything I would expect the voice of special interest to become louder as this trend progresses.

Roger Bolger
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Many retailers began scaling back specific references to Christmas in the 1970s because Christian groups complained that the holiday was being commercialized and secularized. Halloween is an excellent example of a religious holiday that has lost its religious meaning.

Now many Christian groups have the opposite objection and want Christmas specifically referenced as often as possible.

I am sure there are Christians in both camps, and probably many more who do not have strong feelings about either approach.

What do retailers do when some customers strongly express one preference and other customers strongly express the opposite preference? Splitting the difference will not appease either group. Changing policies with every swing in public opinion or media attention is a less than satisfying answer, but I suspect it is the most practical.

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