ORLANDO, Fla. — Which retailers attempt to keep Christ as the reason for the Christmas season?
Christians who monitor how open retailers are to mentions of Christmas in their seasonal marketing say buyers this year should first heed the old song lyrics to check their Christmas list twice, "to find out who’s naughty and nice."
To help figure out who’s who, Liberty Counsel — based in Orlando, Fla., with offices in Washington and Lynchburg, Va. — provides an annual naughty-nice list officially titled the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign."
The list reports where several major retailers appear to stand on Christmas. Are they naughty or nice? Friend or foe? Do they directly mention Christmas in their advertising and promotions? Or do they opt to be modern-day Scrooges?
The list began 11 years ago, when Mathew Staver decided to do something about the "war on Christmas" through Liberty Counsel. Staver and his wife, Anita, both attorneys, founded Liberty Counsel as a nonprofit pro-life, pro-family litigation group that works to advance the sanctity of human life, the traditional family and religious freedom.
In Christmases past, Liberty Counsel has also worked successfully on cases where Nativity scenes were being prohibited on public property and where schools and officials were censoring religious Christmas hymns.
Every year since the start of the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," there have been shifts by retailers from one side to the other. Overall, though, the trend has been overwhelmingly towards the pro-Christmas side since groups like Liberty Counsel have focused public attention on the issue.
"The list has changed dramatically in a positive way, such that more and more retailers are acknowledging Christmas," Staver said. That goes for advertising, promotions and greetings such as "Merry Christmas!" that salespeople say in return or can wish to customers.
Opening a Gap
Staver does not hold back on the credit due to retailers who have taken notice of the list or letters reminding them of the reason for the season. He pointed out that one of this year’s success stories is Gap, Inc.
"It has switched to the ‘Nice’ side," he said. This move comes after the company’s spot on the "Naughty" list the previous eight years.
Liberty Counsel (LC.org) not only notes this switch on its list, but it even provides a link to the corporate letter from Bill Chandler, Gap’s vice president of global affairs.
In the letter, Chandler communicated how the company’s family of brands that include Old Navy will "celebrate the Christmas season."
He writes, "As a global retailer, we embrace the diversity of our customers and respect a variety of traditions and faiths during the holidays, including Christmas."
He further states, "Starting today (Nov. 7), every Gap outlet window will have signs that say ‘Merry Christmas,’ along with Christmas trees and wreaths throughout their stores."
Chandler directed that every store will have decals on doors and other places saying "Merry Christmas," announced a Christmas-themed event in December for Old Navy stores and ended his directive by stating: "[W]e hope you’ll agree that our Gap, Inc. family of brands … are Christmas-friendly this holiday season."
The latest Naughty-Nice/Friend-Foe list also credits Neiman Marcus as a "Nice success story" and especially notes Staples is a "bigger ‘Nice’ success story than last year" because there are "more ‘Christ-related’ items available this year on the website."
Staver cited Wal-Mart as one of the greatest victories in the campaign.
"Wal-Mart started on the ‘Naughty’ side when we launched this," he said. "Cashiers were told they could not ever return a greeting of ‘Merry Christmas’ when a customer initiated it." They used "Happy Holidays" instead.
"Some people even took their goods back to Wal-Mart and made their voices known," Staver added. "The next year, to their credit, Wal-Mart came out and said they were going to mention Christmas early and often."
This year’s "Nice" list, at latest update, includes more than 20 retailers that have been on the "Nice" side since the start or have migrated to the "Nice" column. Many names are nationally recognized, such as Macy’s, Lowe’s, Hobby Lobby, AC Moore Arts & Crafts, Kohl’s and Cracker Barrel.
On the other hand, Staver identified not only the foes, but also the persistently "Naughty" ones.
He noted that there are retailers who look for the profit from sales "but pretend it [Christmas] doesn’t exist. Some are very ideologically stuck against Christmas."
Staver ticked off names or brands, including OfficeMax and Polo Ralph Lauren. "These are retailers who have begun on the naughty side and have made no move to acknowledge Christmas," he said.
Staver cited J. Crew as another. "Even in their manufacturing place, employees told me they had a countdown calendar to, instead of Christmas, Dec. 25," he pointed out. "They don’t even mention Christmas in the calendar. Those kinds of stores are pretty ideological. At the same time, they want to sell their goods.
"If more people complain and move to their competitors, they’re going to listen, more likely."
Indeed, a Rasmussen Reports national survey in 2012 discovered that 68% of American adults preferred "Merry Christmas." Just 23% liked the greeting "Happy Holidays" instead. The 2011 survey indicated that 70% of respondents preferred stores to use signs that say "Merry Christmas."
And Liberty Counsel is not the only Christmas-friendly organization seeking to focus attention on the issue. The American Family Association (AFA) has released its own "2013 Naughty and Nice List" and, like Liberty Counsel, the AFA has reported a strong trend towards a more pro-Christmas retail approach.
AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer told The Christian Post that the percentage of Christmas-friendly companies evaluated has risen from 20% to 80% since his group began evaluating them several years ago.
"I believe that our list had a significant impact on that, because the people in our network are motivated citizens, and they repeatedly contacted these merchandisers to express their concern about how they were disrespecting Christmas," Fischer told the Post.
Similarly, Liberty Counsel’s Staver strongly advises, "We recommend to people to let the retailers know. … Make your voice heard."
He advises that shoppers should respectfully inform Christmas-unfriendly retailers and companies that they intend to patronize their competitors who do acknowledge Christmas and to communicate this via email, phone calls or a personal contact with a company employee.
Similarly, shoppers should contact retailers and companies who do gladly acknowledge Christmas, thanking them and communicating that their embrace of Christmas is one of the reasons for patronizing the store.
Liberty Counsel’s list provides links and phone numbers to the retailers on both sides of the aisle, offering specific recommended messages, such as this one: "Contact Staples to thank the company for adding ‘Christ’ back into ‘Christmas.’ Also encourage management to more reverently honor the ‘Christmas season’ and replace the word ‘holiday’ with ‘Christmas.’"
Since the list is slightly fluid and can change from day to day, as a retailer or company might move from "Naughty" to "Nice" or as new retailers are added to either the "Friend" or "Foe" side. People should regularly check for any updates before a shopping excursion.
Staver has two further recommendations.
"Print off the ‘Naughty and Nice’ list form and send it to your friends," he advises. "And keep us informed. Let us know what you see when you go to those stores."