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Religious Tolerance logo

The Christmas Wars / Christmas Dilemma

Events during 2009, including
a major AFA boycott.  PART 1

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The conflict over Christmas in 2009 seems to be much more muted than in previous years.

The fundamental question is whether stores, public schools, municipal displays should:

bulletRecognize Christmas as the sole "reason for the season" -- the only acknowledged festival in late December. i.e. people should wish each other "Merry Christmas.", or
bulletRecognize the many religious and secular observances at this time of year of which Christmas is by far the most popular one. If so, then people should wish each other "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" unless perhaps the other person would obviously be celebrating a specific observance.

That is: whether everyone should follow the traditional status of Christianity in the U.S., or follow the emerging multi-faith and secularist reality. The choice is exclusivism or inclusivism in response to America's increasing religious and spiritual diversity.

A OneNewsNow.com poll was conducted in late 2008 to find out how retail store employees are greeting customers. Results were:

bulletMerry Christmas 47.7%
bulletHappy Holidays 44.7%
bulletHappy Kwanzaa: 0.12%
bulletHappy Hanukkah: 0.02%

"Seasons Greetings" probably formed a large portion of the 7.5% "other" category. 1

One member of our group was surprised on a day trip to Watertown and Syracuse NY to be greeted by Salvation Army kettle watchers with "Happy Holidays." Being an Agnostic and celebrating the Winter Solstice, he expressed his appreciation.

Are the "Christmas wars" winding down?

We performed a crude analysis of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) website by using their internal search function to find articles in their website containing the word "Christmas." 2 We chose the ADF because they are a religiously conservative legal defense group and seem to take the Christmas Wars very seriously. They have regularly marshaled "More than 800 attorneys nationwide ready to combat attempts to censor Christmas."

We scanned the search results, counting only those whose theme involved Christmas. The number of results, sorted by year were:

Year Number of hits
2002 2
2003 9
2004 39
2005 23
2006 13
2007 11
2008 3
2009 5*

* Up to 2009-DEC-14

The Christmas wars seem to have reached a peak in 2004, about the time of the re-election of George W. Bush as president, and gradually declined since.


bullet2009-OCT-09: USA: American Family Association (AFA) decided to boycott one or more national stores: The AFA decided that  retail outlets wishing customers "Happy Holidays" -- which includes Christmas -- is unacceptable. They must wish people "Merry Christmas" directly and exclusively. Persuasion failed, so they decided to abandon the Golden Rule, denigrate the approximately 25% of Americans who are not Christians, and use economic force. They wrote on their website:

"Christians celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Christ. It's a federal holiday and has always held a special place in the hearts of Americans. Yet there are those companies which feel that a public recognition of the birthday of Christ is not appropriate. Why? Because a few people may be offended!"

"In early November, AFA will choose at least one national retailer and ask you to boycott it until it begins recognizing Christmas in its 'holiday' advertising.  Will you let us know you will support our efforts by participating in the boycott?"

"Would you be willing to boycott retailers which refuse to allow the word Christmas to be displayed in their stores? Give us your answer." 7

The website visitors agreed with the boycott. The AFA selected the Gap organization, which includes The Gap, Old Navy and the Banana Republic stores, to attack.

bullet2009-NOV-17: USA: The Gap creatively responds to the boycott: Gap responded with the following video commercial. It mentions "Christmas" but is also very respectful of other secular and religious annual celebrations in late December. It was probably not exactly what the AFA was expecting. Although it mentions Christmas, it also mentions alternate celebrations:

The lyrics are:

"Two, Four, Six, Eight, now's the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.
" [Emphasis ours]

The AFA did not appear to be amused, They provided a link to the video and wrote:

"Did you notice it? Gap compares Christmas to the pagan holiday called 'Solstice.' Solstice is celebrated by Wiccans who practice witchcraft!"

"Gap also encourages you to "86" or "dismiss" traditions and 'do what feels just right'." 8

Actually, the Solstice is celebrated by aboriginal cultures worldwide, by Atheists, and by AgnosticsWiccans and some other Neopagans celebrate Yule on or about the time of the Solstice.

The commercial seems to have met the AFA's minimum criteria to stop the boycott. Their ad did include "Christmas," mentioned it twice, and even gave it top billing ahead of a Jewish holy day, African American secular celebration and the multi-faith/secular Solstice.

The AFA conducted a poll of their website visitors to determine whether they should end the boycott. The polling options were:
bulletTo end the boycott: "Yes. Any reference to Christmas is good enough to me," or
bulletTo continue the boycott: "No. Gap has taken a disrespectful attitude towards Christians with its ad." 9

90% of their website visitors voted to continue the boycott. 11

bullet2009-NOV-30: USA: AFA terminates the boycott: The Gap responded with a second commercial titled "Holidays in Hoodie." It also mentions Christmas. This one is nicely commercialized, promoting Alpine Hoodies and featuring some very happy dummies. They mention "the holidays" as well as Christmas: 10

This commercial seems to have met the AFA's criteria; they terminated the boycott.

Continued in Part 2


References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. OneNewsNow.com Poll, 2008, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  2. The ADF website is at: http://www.alliancedefensefund.org
  3. "The Twelve Rules of Christmas,?" Rutherford Institute, 2009, at: http://www.rutherford.org/
  4. "The Twelve Rules of Christmas??Guidelines for Christmas, Thanksgiving Holiday Celebrations," Rutherford Institute, 2009-NOV-18, at: http://www.rutherford.org/
  5. Muhammed El-Hasan, "The two wars on Christmas," Daily Breeze, 2009-DEC-01, at: http://www.dailybreeze.com/
  6. "Naughty or Nice?," AFA, as at 2009-DEC-14, at: http://action.afa.net/
  7. "Would you be willing to boycott stores that refuse to use the word 'Christmas'?" AFA, 2009-OCT-08, at: http://action.afa.net/
  8. "Gap responds - Should the boycott end or not? You decide. Gap ad compares Christmas to pagan "Solstice" holiday," AFA, 2009-NOV-17, at: http://action.afa.net/
  9. "Gap responds with ad disrespecting Christians," AFA, undated, at: http://www.afa.net/
  10. "AFA ends boycott of Gap, Old Navy - see the ad," American Family Association, 2009-NOV-30, at: http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147489889
  11. "Your actions make a difference! Gap says ?pro-Christmas? ad to air this weekend," 2009-NOV-24, at: http://action.afa.net

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2009-DEC-14
Latest update: 2009-DEC-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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