Several Retailers 'Censoring Christmas,' Group Charges

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - A pro-family organization has produced its annual list of retailers that use -- or don't use -- the word "Christmas" on their Web site or in their advertising. A group promoting the so-called separation of church and state said the document demonstrates the "Religious Right's rather warped worldview."

"Sales flyers advertise their 'holiday' sales, TV programs refer to the 'holiday season,' and store clerks wish you 'Happy Holidays.' Whatever happened to Christmas?" asked Dr. James Dobson, founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family, when announcing the list, "The Attack on Christmas 2007: How Retailers Rate."

Dobson said during his Nov. 26 radio broadcast that our culture's ongoing attempts to remove the word "Christmas" from the Christmas season "is a concerted effort to eliminate yet another traditional institution -- this one involving Christmas itself - and I think we should do what we can to defend it."

The "Attack on Christmas" document divides retailers into one of four categories: "The Good" -- stores that mention the word "Christmas" often, "The Bad" -- those that make only token references to the holiday, "The Ugly" -- chains that use the word so infrequently that they're considered to be "censoring Christmas," and others that received mixed reviews.

Ranging from Amazon to Wal-Mart, "The Good" lists 20 store chains, including Bath and Body Works, J.C. Penney, JoAnn Fabrics, KB Toys, Mrs. Field's Cookies and Sears Roebuck and Co.

Making only occasional references to Christmas are Ace Hardware, Best Buy, Bloomingdale's, Borders bookstores, the Gap, Kohl's, Marshalls, and Staples, which earned those retailers a spot in "The Bad" listing.

"The Ugly" featured such outlets as Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble bookstores, Circuit City, Dick's Sporting Goods, the Disney Store, eBay, Nordstrom, Petco and the Sports Authority.

However, Old Navy received special criticism from Focus on the Family for referring to the early hours of Dec. 25 as a "holiday morning."

Carrie Gordon Earll, the group's senior director of issue analysis, said during a Dec. 10 follow-up program that "if you are a company that's going to put 'holiday morning' instead of 'Christmas morning' [in your marketing materials], ... then you're probably not going to get my Christmas spending dollars."

Also during that broadcast, Dobson remarked that he had received a letter from Alex Smith, chief executive officer of Pier 1, after the chain had received an unfavorable rating from Focus on the Family.

In the missive, Smith explained that he became the head of the company earlier this year, and he said he thought the retailer had achieved a "good balance" between the uses of different words to describe Dec. 25.

But after learning of Pier 1's low rating in the conservative group's list, Smith told Dobson he had the banner across the company's Web site changed from "Happy Holidays" to "A Very Merry Christmas" and altered the site's body-copy as well.

Those modifications earned the company a boost into the "Mixed Reviews" category, which listed several other retailers that had "improved" their Web sites, including the Discovery Channel store, Home Depot, Land's End, Office Max, PetSmart, Target and Toys 'R' Us.

Also placed in that listing was Lowe's, which Cybercast News Service previously reported apologized last month for referring to its Christmas trees as "family trees" in its end-of-year catalog.

'Materialistic feeding frenzy'

While Earll called the initial response to this year's list "electrifying," Joseph Conn, director of communications at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), criticized the document as "a nice little list of merchandising outlets that wish you a Merry Christmas - instead of Happy Holidays."

Thus, in the "Religious Right's rather warped worldview," Focus on the Family's 2007 listing "somehow preserve[s] the true spirit of Christmas," he stated on the AU Web site.

Conn also criticized Dobson for noting "ominously" during his Nov. 26 program: "We want to identify the most prominent of these corporations so that people will know how to shop."

The "War on Christmas," Conn added, "has always baffled me. As I understand the Christian faith, Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ, the messiah sent to take away the sins of the world. It is a sacred day to the faithful, not an occasion to dive into America's annual orgy of materialism and heedless spending."

"Shouldn't religious leaders be celebrating the true spirit of Christmas?" he asked. "Shouldn't they be speaking out against rampant materialism instead of just telling Christians which stores to go to?"

But during his Dec. 10 program, Dobson noted that Focus on the Family's efforts at putting the word "Christmas" back into the final holiday season of the year does not center on materialism, but instead deals with Christians "making our voice heard in our culture."

"Christmas has meant so much to so many for so long," Dobson said. "It is a holiday that comes out of our love for Jesus Christ. We don't expect every corporation to identify with our spiritual beliefs and message, but what they're attempting to do is to just boycott it or stifle it or eliminate all reference to it.

"If they do that, then Christmas is nothing but a materialistic feeding frenzy, where everybody is out spending money and they don't have any idea why," he added.

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