Costco Makes ‘Naughty’ List for Avoiding the Word ‘Christmas’

By Penny Starr | December 8, 2008 | 8:47 PM EST

A Christmas tree is advertised as a "Holiday tree" at Costco (Photos by Starr)

( – The American Family Association (AFA) has issued its annual “naughty and nice” list of retailers that ban, avoid -- or in some cases, use -- the word Christmas to describe merchandise in stores and in advertising.

Included on the "naughty" list is Costco Wholesale, the country's largest warehouse-club retailer with more than 20 million members and almost 500 stores.
“(Costco) makes a conscious attempt to avoid the word Christmas,” Randy Sharp, director of special projects with AFA, told
Sharp said AFA uses several criteria to determine a retailer's Christmas rating, including advertising, Web sites and in-store displays.

A Christmas wreath is advertised as a "Holiday wreath" at Costco (Photos by Starr)

In one Costco in Alexandria, Va., the only mention of Christmas was on tins of crackers and in the bakery on layer cakes. The rest of the Christmas-related merchandise used holiday to describe them, including "holiday trees," "holiday gift wrap" and "holiday cards."
On the Costco Web site, a search for Christmas yields two hits – an ornament and fresh cut Christmas trees. The label “indoor decorations” is used on one Web page under a photo of a nativity scene, and traditional Christmas trees are described in generic terms, such as “24-inch artificial decorated icy pine in pot” and “24-inch artificial bird/poinsettia ornament pine tree in pot.”
Jeff Long, senior vice president of the northeastern region for Costco, told that he doesn't think his company discriminates against Christmas or any other holiday.
“I can’t really comment on the Web site, because I don’t have any input into it," Long said. "I know that in the past I have heard comments like the company had directed its employees not to use the word Christmas so as not to offend other religions and things of that nature, and I can just tell you that that’s not correct."
Long said, to his knowledge, signs in stores accurately describe merchandise.
"If it’s Christmas wrap, it’s Christmas wrap, if it's Hanukkah wrap, it's Hanukkah wrap," Long said.

Christmas cards are advertised as a "Holiday cards" at Costco (Photos by Starr)

At the Alexandria store, however, both Christmas and Hannakuh wrapping paper were labeled "holiday gift wrap."
When contacted Costco's corporate headquarters in Washington state, the company issued a statement that said:
"Costco does not advertise on television, on radio or in print like other retailers. We only advertise by mailing and e-mail messages sent directly to our members who have paid for the privilege of shopping with us. Accordingly, we must be as efficient as possible with the communications we send,” the company said.
“Costco typically launches some coupon programs in the November time frame. The advertisements used for these programs may mention ‘the holidays,’ referring to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s,” the company added.
Sharp said AFA’s evaluation of Costco included visiting stores and reviewing e-mails and other materials sent to members. He also said AFA has contacted Costco in an effort to discuss the company's policies but has not to date received a response.
Some of the other stores on AFA's "anti-Christmas" list include Barnes & Noble, CVS Pharmacy, Gap Stores, Office Depot, Radio Shack and Staples.
Sharp said stores like Wal-Mart and Sears, which have emphasized Christmas in their marketing campaigns and stores, have benefited from that policy.
"People want to shop with companies who express the (Christmas) season," Sharp said.