Tim Drake is an award-winning writer and former journalist and radio host with the National Catholic Register/EWTN. He currently serves as New Evangelization Coordinator for the Holdingford Area Catholic Community in the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota. He resides with his wife and five children in St. Joseph, Minn.
Advent has just started, but the war over Christmas is already underway, and for the most part, it appears that Christmas is winning. In New York, it’s a battle of billboards. In Philadelphia, battle over a word. Retailers, meanwhile are increasingly embracing “Christmas” in their advertising and promotions.
In New York, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has sponsored a Christmas billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel in response to a Christmas-debunking billboard sponsored by American Atheists.
The battling billboards are posted on opposite sides of the Lincoln Tunnel. The Catholic League’s billboard is on the New York side. The American Atheists billboard is on the New Jersey side.
The Catholic League-sponsored billboard features a nativity scene and the words: “You Know It’s Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus.” The American Atheists-sponsored billboard reads: “You know it’s a myth. This season, celebrate reason!”
The Catholic League obtained a $18,500 anonymous donation to purchase the 26 x 24-foot billboard space for the month of December.
“Jesus historically lived, there’s no doubt about that,” said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York. “He was a real person in a real time, and for Catholics and Christians we believe he was the son of God.”
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, they’ve been literally battling over the Word, or at least a variation of the Word. For the past three years, German American Marketing, Inc. has put up a German Christmas Village at City Hall. On Nov. 30, not long after the “Christmas Village” sign went up, the word “Christmas” was removed in favor of the word “Holiday.”
Thomas Bauer, of German American Marketing, Inc. said that the action was taken in response to city managing director Richard Negrin’s concerns. Negrin had told Bauer that the city had received complaints.
Three days later, after considerable nationwide media coverage, mayor Michael Nutter decided that the word “Christmas” would be returned.
“If we are to be a truly diverse and inclusive community, we must certainly be respectful of all the various celebrations that occur during this time of year,” said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a statement. “Christmas deserves its rightful place among those.”
On the retail side of things, Christmas is being returned as well.
Naughty or Nice?
The American Family Association and the Liberty Counsel typically release annual Naughty and Nice lists of retailers that choose either to not acknowledge or acknowledge Christmas in their Christmas-season advertising.
One surprise from this year is that the “nice” list is longer than the “naughty” list, a sign that some say indicates that the list positively motivates retailers to acknowledge Christmas.
In years past, for example, retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy have found themselves on the “naughty” list for promoting “Holiday Trees” and encouraging employees to use neutral “holiday” greetings with customers. This year those retailers are on the “nice” list.
Other notable changes include the addition of Dick’s Sporting Goods, Disney, and AC Moore Arts & Crafts to the “nice” list.
On the “naughty” list are retailers such as Staples, Radio Shack, Gap, J. Crew, American Eagle Outfitters, and Old Navy.
The American Family Association says that over the past five years, it has seen the percentage of retailers acknowledging Christmas rise from 20 percent to 80 percent.
That’s a trend that’s also been noticed by the National Retail Federation (NRF).
“We see the word Christmas being used much more this year than three of four years ago,” said Ellen Davis, vice president at the NRF. “The pendulum seems to have swung back.”