WASHINGTON — With the Christmas shopping season in high gear, retail advertising reflects a willingness — or unwillingness — to acknowledge Christmas and the birth of Christ.

For the 15th year of its “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” Liberty Counsel continues to track retailers and provide a “Naughty and Nice List” of those that use the term “Christmas” in their stores and advertising. With offices in Florida, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, Liberty Counsel, and the Mississippi-based American Family Association, are two main watchdog organizations.

In a video message introducing this year’s list, Liberty Counsel’s Matthew Staver says “every year the battle intensifies,” and the word “Christmas” is increasingly being replaced by the word “holiday” in advertising.

Liberty ’s list helps shoppers know which retailers recognize Christmas and which censor it. As Staver suggests, “Print it out to help you decide which stores to patronize this year.”

 

Checking the List

Last year, Liberty Counsel’s “Nice” list expanded to 25, while the “Naughty” side showed a decline, with only eight entries. However, this year, the Liberty Counsel recorded 17 retailers that either censor Christmas or are very silent about it.

A small sample shows that some companies are “Nice” regulars, like AC Moore Arts & Crafts, Bronner’s CHRISTmas WONDERLAND, and Hobby Lobby stores. Others have become so, such as Dillard’s, Lowe’s and Staples.

In many cases, the list notes the retailer’s approach, such as if the use of “Christmas” equals or surpasses the use of “holiday.” The list also notes mentions of references to Jesus, Nativities and other biblical elements.

The “Naughty” list also has its regulars. Liberty Counsel includes Gap and its related brand, Old Navy, which is back on the “Naughty” list this year after moving to the “Nice” side in 2013 when store windows displayed “Merry Christmas” signs.

American Family Association’s list numbers more than  50 “Nice” retailers, 17 “Naughty” ones and eight that are deemed “marginal.”

According to a statement on its website from an AFA official, “There are secular forces in our country that hate Christmas because the word itself is a reminder of Jesus Christ. They want to eradicate anything that reminds Americans of Christianity. That is why it is important to remind governments and companies to keep the word ‘Christmas’ alive. AFA wants to keep Christ in Christmas and Christmas in America.”

While the Liberty Counsel and AFA lists are similar in many ways, there are some notable differences.

 

Rehabilitating Scrooges

One way to help in the rehabilitation of the “Humbug” retailers is to check the lists regularly and shop accordingly. Both websites advise that, since lists can and do change. Liberty Counsel also wants to rehabilitate the “Naughty” retailers, asking shoppers to write, call or email “to encourage the company to increase their references to Christmas,” or “thank them for keeping Christ in the season … for providing Christ-centered Christmas products.” It also encourages people to contact retailers on the “Naughty” side and politely and kindly “encourage the organization to include Christ in their ‘Christmas’ seasonal marketing plan,” or “tell them that you will be shopping where Christmas is celebrated and named.”

While some retailers might take issue with “Christmas,” other Christmas battles and victories are taking place elsewhere.

A current case pits the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority against the Archdiocese of Washington, which filed a legal action in federal court challenging WMATA advertising guidelines after it rejected an ad promoting the archdiocese’s annual “Find the Perfect Gift” initiative (see related editorial).

“The rejected ad conveys a simple message of hope, and an invitation to participate in the Christmas season, for sides of buses. Yet citing its guidelines, WMATA’s legal counsel said the ad ‘depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion,’” explained the archdiocese’s secretary for communications, Ed McFadden.

Yet at the same time, the Catholic League reported secular New York City approved a permit for the league to put up a life-size Nativity scene in Central Park on public property.

“If anything, our crèche is much more of a ‘religious scene’ than the one sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington,” the league’s president, Bill Donohue, stated in a release, “yet it has never been challenged as unconstitutional, not even by the ACLU.”

Amid the “Christmas wars,” Liberty Counsel’s Staver advises all to remember the “reason for the season,” noting that Christmas is “more than just getting together with family and friends and sharing presents. It’s a reminder of God’s presence among us.”

Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.