‘Naughty’ or ‘Nice’ for Christmas?

Help for shoppers in finding companies that celebrate the season well.

(photo: afain.net)

ORLANDO, Fla. —  As shoppers search for Christmas gifts this year, they can also keep in mind which retailers acknowledge the holiday in their stores and advertising and which do not.

Two Christian organizations that monitor some major retailers and provide a “Naughty & Nice list” of several major retailers are Liberty Counsel — with offices in Florida, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and California — and the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss.

This year, Liberty Counsel marks its 12th annual list, which is an important part of its broader “Friend or Foe of Christmas Campaign.”

Mathew Staver began the list after deciding to do something about the attacks on Christmas celebrations undertaken by secularism proponents. Staver and his wife, Anita, both attorneys, founded Liberty Counsel as an international nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life and the family.

The “Friend or Foe of Christmas Campaign” defends Christmas beyond the list, too.

Liberty Counsel defended the right to celebrate Christ in 2005 in Medway, Mass. That year, Medway Middle School prohibited students from wearing red and green elf hats during its winter pageant, and Christmas trees were called “magical trees.”

“We weren’t able to resolve it that year but did resolve it the following year,” Staver said.

After the Medway School District was criticized over its censorship of Christmas, the superintendent in 2006 gave teachers guidelines that allowed the celebration of Christmas. In this and similar situations, including defending Nativity scenes on public property, Liberty Counsel has been able to reverse the anti-Christmas sentiments.

Still, Christmas continues to receive yearly challenges. A story carried by Fox News and NBC Chicago reported that, this year in Milwaukee, the Southeast Wisconsin Free Thinkers, an atheist organization, put up money for a billboard picturing a little girl writing her Christmas list.

Her message: “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church. I’m too old for fairy tales.”

It was reported that the American Atheists group also donated money for this billboard.

On Fox6Now.com, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said: “Those who are believers will take a look at it and say, ‘It’s a pity that someone has to take a stance like this.’”

He added, “It would have been nicer if the organization maybe put more time and effort into maybe collecting gifts for the needy at that time than to spend it on a billboard.”


Making a Difference

While average shoppers might have no direct influence on some of the Scrooge-like actions that the Liberty Counsel and Thomas More Society challenge legally, they certainly can make a difference using the lists from Liberty Counsel and the American Family Association.

Randy Sharp, director of special projects for the American Family Association, said its naughty-or-nice list was started nine years ago, “when we noticed a trend among the national retailers who were beginning to become politically correct, in that they exclusively used ‘Happy Holidays.’ There was a very obvious absence of ‘Christmas’ in their advertising campaigns.”

AFA’s concern was: “If you’re marketing consumers, and all your ads are using Christmas symbols, why don’t you use [the word] ‘Christmas’ in your ads?”

The AFA focused on the nation’s 100 top retailers, checking newspaper, TV and radio ads, emails, flyers, companies’ websites and even social media to see if they were marketing to Christmas shoppers and, if so, including the term “Christmas” in their marketing campaigns.

AFA’s first campaign in 2005 began with Lowe’s, which was using a “holiday” sign to sell trees. Said Sharp, “We sent out an action email to our two million online subscribers to tell Lowe’s to call it what it is — a Christmas tree. Within 24 hours, Lowe’s called us” and said that the store had changed its signs to mention “Christmas trees.”

Sharp explained that AFA’s argument with stores snubbing “Christmas” and opting for “Happy Holidays” is that most people recognize their purchases as Christmas gifts, so “call it what it is — Christmas.”

“The term ‘holiday’ is a movement by the secular world to remove ‘Christmas’ from this time of the season,” he said. “The American Family Association wants to keep Christ in Christmas and Christmas in America.”

The AFA rates companies as “nice” if they use “Christmas” in most of their advertising media as part of the companies’ philosophies. That includes greeting shoppers with “Merry Christmas.”

If a company uses the term “Christmas” hardly at all or infrequently, they are considered “marginal.” Those which use “Christmas” nowhere are deemed “naughty.”

Liberty Counsel uses two categories but gives very detailed descriptions of why companies fall on either side. The organization relies on its own research and reports from consumers.


‘Naughty’ Becomes ‘Nice’

Several major retailers have been moving from “naughty” to “nice.”

Liberty Counsel’s Staver has seen “huge changes, not only this past year, but over the years,” he said. “You’ll see that the ‘nice’ list is very long, thankfully, and the ‘naughty’ list doesn’t fill the first page. It used to be the ‘naughty’ list was the same [length] as the ‘nice’ side.”

Currently, there are over three times as many on the “nice” side as there are on the “naughty” side, even though some of those classified “nice” remain “marginal.”

Sharp finds similar results. “We noticed when we began [that] 80% of the nation’s top 100 retailers were on the ‘naughty’ list,” he said. “Today, we’re glad to say that 80% are on the ‘nice’ list.”

Both Liberty Counsel and AFA spotlight Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as a top example. An article in USA Today in 2006 announced Wal-Mart’s decision to reinstate Christmas after “religious and other groups boycotted retailers, including Wal-Mart (WMT), for downplaying Christmas.”

“We, quite frankly, have learned a lesson from last year,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Linda Blakley, USA Today reported then. “We’re not afraid to use the term ‘Merry Christmas.’ We’ll use it early, and we’ll use it often.”

Sharp observed that, since then, “Wal-Mart has become one of the top companies that embrace Christmas.” This year, for example, Wal-Mart stores have many signs declaring the joy of Christmas.

Staver said that Sears was the second major retailer to move sides. “They literally changed their advertising signs in the middle of the Christmas shopping season when they got their pushback,” he said.

One of last year’s major moves included the Gap brand stores — Gap and Old Navy. Both were on Liberty Counsel and AFA’s “naughty” list for years. In 2012, AFA asked its members to boycott the stores.

In November 2013, Gap’s vice president of global corporate affairs, Bill Chandler, sent a letter stating, “Starting today, every Gap outlet window will have signs that say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ along with Christmas trees and wreaths throughout their stores.”

Furthermore, he wrote that every store would have “Merry Christmas” door decals and announce a special Christ-themed event for mid-December in Old Navy stores, and the websites would include Christmas-related products.

Chandler called Gap and Old Navy “Christmas-friendly.”

“That was long term and took years,” Sharp said of the change. When Sharp visited a local Gap, he was greeted with a “Merry Christmas.”


A Spirit of Scrooge

However, some companies have never migrated to the “nice” side.

On the Liberty Counsel list, Radio Shack remains on the “naughty” side. This year, it used the word “Christmas” in describing only three items on its website; otherwise, there is no mention of Christmas. It remains on the “marginal” list for AFA for similar reasons.

Staver noted that J. Crew clothing store is another perennial on the “naughty” list.

He believes those who will not or do not mention Christmas “have a religious bias against the Christian celebration of Christmas.”

He said some retailers “get bad advice that they need to be politically correct and will continue until people complain. People did, and they made a change in a big way. The other handful have an obvious bias and animosity to Christianity. They acknowledge Hanukkah, but they won’t acknowledge Christmas.”

Liberty Counsel recommends that when shoppers see that a store acknowledges Christmas — for example, by calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree and not a holiday tree — they should tell the manager by email, phone or in person that they like the fact that the store likes Christmas.

On the other hand, Staver said, “If it’s clearly not acknowledging Christmas, tell the manager, ‘Until you acknowledge Christmas, I’ll shop elsewhere.’”

For the last eight years, the AFA has called for a boycott on one particular company on the “naughty” list. Sharp said that, this year, PetSmart is the focus of the one-month boycott.

“We’ve been dealing with this company for six years, with two active email campaigns,” he said. “They refuse to respond. You will not find ‘Christmas’ on their website. Their advertising includes trees, holly. They’re marketing to Christmas shoppers but will not acknowledge Christmas.”

AFA’s solution? “The pocketbooks of consumers speak volumes to the retailers,” Sharp observed.


A Catholic Mom’s Advice

Lisa Hendey, author and founder of CatholicMom.com, told the Register, “As Catholics, our tradition of gift-giving during the Christmas season is directly tied to our celebration of the Nativity of the Christ Child. To neglect to acknowledge the word ‘Christmas’ when we exchange presents with one another as a sign of our love is to strip from this occasion the very core of its meaning.”

She said it’s essential that Catholics select Christmas gifts with great care and consideration. One aspect is to support businesses that understand and cherish the word “Christmas” as fundamental to the spirit of this giving occasion.

“Another excellent choice for Catholics looking for terrific gifts is to shop locally at Catholic retailers,” Hendey advised.  “Your local Catholic book and gift store toils year-round to supply quality items that are both a great value and which support your family’s ultimate goal: salvation.”

Added Hendey, “A trip to your local Catholic store this Christmas season will both support its mission and will keep you away from long lines at the mall. Give gifts that directly relate to the true meaning of Christmas this year, and consider purchasing them locally or from trusted online Catholic vendors.”



Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.