Public Relations

Hallmark's War on 'Gay' Christmas


Hallmark Holiday Sweater

Courtesy Hallmark

Hallmark Holiday Sweater

The calendar just flipped to November and already Hallmark is having a difficult holiday season.

This week the company introduced a new Christmas ornament shaped like a tacky holiday sweater with a festive message: “Don we now our fun apparel!” That’s right, “fun.” Not “gay.” Hallmark has taken a famous Christmas carol lyric about wearing cheerful holiday clothes and changed it to avoid implicitly referencing homosexuality. The ornament has left Hallmark open to simultaneous criticism for being anti-gay and too politically correct.

That’s right: In attempting to avoid a controversy, Hallmark has apparently offended almost everyone.

“There is nothing wrong with the word ‘Gay,’” a man named Dave Thompson wrote on the company’s Facebook page. “It can mean fun, happy, excited, exuberant … and it refers to gay people … There’s nothing wrong with either! Bad Hallmark! Bad!”

A few comments below his, a woman named Jerrilyn York Thompson complained from the other perspective: “Hallmark claims to be the keeper of traditional values; then, you change the words to a century’s [sic] old Christmas Carol to appease maybe 2% of the population … I am so sick of this PC society that will defer to whatever fringe of society that is yelling the loudest.”

It just gets worse from there. “Our GAY family will [return] any Hallmark cards received,” a man named Richie recently tweeted to Hallmark. “Straight America is offended!” wrote Joyce McNealy on Facebook.

Hallmark, apparently caught off guard by this outcry, issued the following explanation earlier this week: “Today [the word 'gay'] has multiple meanings, which we thought could leave our intent open to misinterpretation. The trend of wearing festively decorated Christmas sweaters to parties is all about fun, and this ornament is intended to play into that, so the planning team decided to say what we meant: ‘fun.’” According to a Hallmark spokesperson, the ornament is still for sale in Hallmark Gold Crown stores.

To be fair, Hallmark’s probably right that an outlandish sweater with the words “Don we now our gay apparel!” would also cause some confusion. Would it be implying that all holiday sweaters somehow looked gay? That all gay people wear ridiculous Christmas sweaters? What about gay people who don’t celebrate Christmas? The ornament could be taken as a gesture embracing the gay community—or it could just as easily be read as flippant parody.

But changing “gay” to “fun” doesn’t do anything except remind everyone that the word “gay” is supposed to be there instead, so we still end up thinking about the lyric and the same questions arise all over again.

If Hallmark was worried that “gay apparel” would offend people—and clearly it would have—maybe the right move would have been to avoid the lyric altogether. The company could have released a sweater-shaped ornament with no writing on it at all, just like it apparently did in 2003.

Or it could’ve just gone with a different quote from Deck the Halls. As far as anyone can tell, no group takes offense to the immortal phrase: “Fa la la la la, la la la la.”

Suddath is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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