LAPEER, Mich. — Last December, when 8-year-old Hannah Austin overheard her parents discussing how corporate retailers were eliminating “Christmas” from their promotions, she wrote a petition.

“They just called it a normal holiday, and I wanted it to be called Christmas,” Hannah told the Register. “The priest at our church told me that in some places they were calling Christmas trees, “sparkle trees.”

The third grader at Bishop Kelley Catholic School in LaPeer, Mich., got 300 classmates and staff to sign her petition, and then took it to the “big boxes.” Kmart and Wal-Mart didn’t really care about it, she reported, but Meijer Department Stores and Home Depot changed some of their ads.

Hannah’s mother, Diane Austin, said the response overwhelmed Hannah at first — she was even interviewed by the local newspaper — but Diane was just as surprised.

“So many people felt the same way we did, but just accepted it. People don’t feel like they can say anything. But when someone gets the ball rolling, there’s a lot of support,” she said.

Hannah plans to do this every year “until they realize it’s important because Jesus is why we celebrate Christmas,” she said. This year, her class is raising money for a local Knights of Columbus food shelf by selling bracelets that read, “Just Say Merry Christmas.”

The bracelet campaign was designed by Jennifer and Dan Giroux, owners of The Catholic Shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, to encourage Christians to proudly proclaim the Christ Child as the center of the Christmas season. They were surprised by their own Catholic customers who automatically wished them “Happy Holidays.”

“Here we are surrounded by Nativity sets and traditional religious art and they’re still not comfortable saying, “Merry Christmas.” We felt like something had really gone wrong,” said Dan. “They had been intimidated and browbeaten to think that they couldn’t say the main purpose for the season.”

The parents of nine children also noted that their 8-year-old, who is deaf, was only seeing the secular Christmas. “When we looked at it through our daughter’s eyes, she saw no religious figures in the general public,” added Dan.

When Wal-Mart and Target announced their employees could not mention “Christmas” last year, and President Bush sent out “Happy Holidays” cards to his Christian constituents, it was “a perfect storm” in the battle for Christmas, said Jennifer, and their bracelet grabbed the national spotlight for the cause. After it was featured on WorldNetDaily, Giroux family members were interviewed by more than 50 media outlets, including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. It also appeared in Time magazine. More than 100,000 bracelets were unexpectedly sold, and are selling again this year in religious and secular stores, and on their website (operationjustsaymerrychristmas.com).

“If we had planned a national campaign it would not have worked out, so it was God who wanted to get this message out. People told us that it gave them the courage to say the words,” said Jennifer.

Mike Rumpza, a Catholic from St. Paul, Minn., created a similar campaign last year with an “I Celebrate Christmas” button that he hopes will prompt dialogue among people about the birth of Jesus. “In our society it’s hard to get a conversation started in that direction, but when you do it’s usually very good and fruitful,” he said.

Distributed mainly through his website, PCButtons.com (Promoting Christmas), Rumpza said sales of the buttons are already heating up this year. The button is also being sold through The Catholic Servant, a monthly publication for evangelization, apologetics and catechesis, distributed in the Twin Cities. As Volunteer editor and publisher, John Sondag has arranged that pro-life and other Catholic charities can purchase the buttons in bulk through the Servant and sell them for a profit to earn money for their own causes. He said the buttons remind us of the reason for the season.

“At Christmas, the poor are assisted, families re-unite, and nations stop fighting. The world seems at peace. In fact, we announce truces between warring nations during Christmas,” said Sondag. “The songs, the decorations, the food — all of these delight the senses and imagination of man. Our spirits are uplifted in a way that is not imitated by any other season during the year. To take Christ out of the season is unthinkable. To make these days just a season without any reason for celebration is to deflate them like balloons without air.”

Avoiding Malls

Christopher and Clare Ruff have developed Christmas traditions for their five children that are very contrary to the secular holiday. For one, malls are expressly avoided as much as possible during Advent, and gifts limited to a few appropriate ones for each family member.

On the Feast of the Holy Family, they celebrate each child as a gift from God by wrapping their bedroom doors with ribbon as a package, and opening gifts from each other. Then on Christmas Day, they wake up to Christmas music and a special breakfast before attending Mass. They then open gifts from godparents and grandparents. The family celebrates through the Feast of Epiphany, making Christmas more than just one big day that overloads on sugar, presents and meltdowns, said Clare.

“The children have joy in their hearts and to me that’s what we should have on Christmas day. We should be rejoicing like the angels and there should be a space in our homes and hearts for that choir of Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” she said.

As for the secularist attitudes, she dismisses them as a moderate tool of the devil to negate our joy. “No one can keep me from putting a crèche on my lawn, and if enough of us do it we bring the light of Christmas, and the light will outshine the darkness.”

She also wishes people a “Blessed Christmas.” Because that’s what she wants them to have.

Barb Ernster is based in

Fridley, Minnesota.