Christmas Wars: Who Is ‘Naughty or Nice’ in 2015?

Compilers of Annual Lists Report Progress With Retailers and Nativity Displays

CHRISTMAS AT THE CAPITOL. The Nativity scene at the Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield.
CHRISTMAS AT THE CAPITOL. The Nativity scene at the Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield. (photo: Courtesy of Thomas More Society in Chicago)
ORLANDO, Fla. — Pity poor Ebenezer Scrooge, who battled against the meaning and spirit of Christmas. But he finally came to his senses when confronted with people past and present who kept Christmas as holy and merry. Similar rehabilitation has happened to some contemporary U.S. retailers and communities that have restricted Christmas expressions in public places, while others still have to be confronted with their anti-Christmas practices.

On the rehabilitation front, both Liberty Counsel and the American Family Association have played a leading role with their annual “Naughty or Nice” lists to help people shop accordingly.

This marks the 13th year Liberty Counsel ( has published its list of where retailers stand in regards to “Christmas.”

“It has been very successful,” said Matthew Staver of the lists in Liberty Counsel’s overall “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign.” Staver is Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman and dean of Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va.

Initially “the ‘Naughty or Nice’ lists were about equal, in terms of their length,” Staver said. But the yearly campaigns have made a positive difference, with “a huge move from the ‘Naughty’ to ‘Nice’ list in the retail market.” This year, the “Nice” list is six pages long, while less than 10 major retailers made the “Naughty” list.

Staver also observed: “The interesting thing is that no retailers moved from the ‘Nice’ list to the ‘Naughty’ list. There’s no going backward.”


Spirit of Christmas Present

At the American Family Association (, Randy Sharp, director of special projects for AFA, reported that AFA’s list remains largely stable on both sides of the Christmas ledger.

“The trend we see is the leveling off of the list,” Sharp said. “There is not much movement each year. We haven’t seen companies move from one list to the other.”

AFA breaks its “Nice” list into two sections: “five star”-rated companies that promote and celebrate Christmas on an exceptional basis and those that use “Christmas” on a regular basis.

The lists of both organizations certainly have the public on their side, as evidenced not only by the results over the years, but also by the general attitudes of Americans. A Rasmussen Reports phone survey conducted during December 2014 found 60% of American adults believe “Christmas should be more about Jesus than Santa.” Only 20% thought it should “be more about the guy coming down the chimney.”

Another Rasmussen Reports survey conducted a year earlier found that 66% of American adults prefer “Merry Christmas” greetings, while only 21% like “Happy Holidays” instead.

Staver singled out AC Moore Arts & Crafts and Kohl’s as prime examples of significant moves from the “Naughty” to the “Nice” list this year.

AC Moore’s “Merry” mason jars from last year were renamed this year as “Christmas” mason jars. “They abandoned their use of the generic word and put ‘Christmas’ in place of it,” Staver said. Liberty Counsel’s detailed description of each retailer lists AC Moore as having 290 usages of “Christmas” in products or advertising and 10 references to Jesus, Nativity or biblical elements.

Staver pointed out another major move: “Kohl’s used to be in the ‘Naughty’ list and now has 4,000-plus usages of the word ‘Christmas’ on its website. So that’s a big move in the right direction.” Liberty Counsel’s detailed description also credits Kohl’s for 297 references to Jesus, Nativity or biblical elements in products or advertising and adds: “Kohl’s is especially commended for a generous line of faith-related items to promote Christmas.”

Sharp described how AFA’s list 10 years ago “began with Lowes selling ‘holiday trees’ in front of their stores. We called their hand on it, and two days later, everything was changed to ‘Christmas trees.’ And all the signs were changed throughout the store. Now, go to Lowe’s, and everything is Christmas.”

In fact, Lowe’s is ranked as one of a half dozen five-star outstanding retailers on AFA’s lists.


Still Scrooges

“There are a handful that are entrenched and have dug in and won’t move,” Staver noted about the “Naughty” list. “The people within the management of these corporations are hostile to Christianity and Christmas.”

Sharp ticked off some of the AFA “Naughty” mainstays like “Office Depot, Office Max and PetSmart. … They want Christmas shoppers doing shopping in their stores, but they don’t want to recognize the reason.”

According to Sharp, that can have a negative effect, as thousands of people knowing about the list won’t shop in those places deemed “Naughty.”

AFA provides all the contact information for these companies and encourages consumers to email, tweet and use other social media “to make their voices heard,” Sharp said.


The Public Square

Aside from stores, attacks are still being made against public expressions of the true meaning of Christmas. But even though such battles continue, Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society in Chicago, calls this “a war that has been won.”

He clarified, “The key here is to put up a Nativity scene not by government, but by private citizens, and to argue the case as a free-speech case.”

The latest victory for the Thomas More Society came in September, in a case that began a year ago. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Wisconsin filed a lawsuit against Franklin County in Indiana over a Nativity scene on the Indiana county’s courthouse lawn, claiming it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“The notorious organization from Wisconsin seems hell-bent on erasing any vestige of religion from the public square,” said Brejcha. But Thomas More Society attorneys defended the privately sponsored Nativity scene as protected under the Free-Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana dismissed the lawsuit.

As Staver observed, “We still have issues, obviously, but a lot more people are realizing they can have a Nativity scene with Jesus, Mary and Joseph on public property, along with Santa,” he said. “More and more people are seeing this is constitutional, and they don’t have to eliminate the ‘reason for the season.’”


Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.