It's Beginning To Look Alot Like Festivus

Posted by: David Kiley on December 19, 2005

festivus.jpg

As a commenter on all things marketing and media, I have been going back and forth between bemusement and disgust about the preposterous conversation going on in the public media square over whether some schools, retailers or liberals are at war against Christmas.

I doubt that this little bog o‘ mine will drown out the hysterical pin-headed ravings of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly on the subject. But perhaps a few sobering thoughts might be food for thought.

I’m not going into every case in detail. We know it by now. Target and Walmart have been bullied into advertising and promoting Christmas items instead of “Holiday” items. Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Centers have been taking flack for selling “holiday” trees instead of Christmas trees. And so on. And so on. Yada. Yada. Yada.

Here are my Christmas thoughts on the subject for consumers, retailers or those who find themselves caught up in a conversation about who is right and who is wrong on this ridiculous topic:

—For all of my 42 years, religious leaders I have come to respect have annually decried the appropriation of Christmas by retailers and big business. So, why do some religious leaders, ministers and those in the media purporting to advance a Christian moral lesson care one way or the other if Target or Walmart or Home Depot use the word Christmas to sell more stuff?

—I buy an evergreen tree every year (this year we bought an artificial tree so as not to add to the madness of growing trees just to hack them down for a few weeks of symbolism…also, the watering and the needle clean-up last year finally got us down), but it doesn’t become a Christmas tree until it goes up in my house, the lights are on and the angel is on the top. We make a tree a Christmas tree, not Home Depot.

—This conversation about whether religion is under fire, or that we are living in an increasingly secular society (as if that’s a bad thing) inevitably reaches the point where somebody (paging O’Reilly or Sean Hannity) mentions that we have “In God We Trust” on our money. My catechism and four years at a Jesuit University requires that I ask a theological rhetorical: “Does anyone think Jesus is happy about having ‘God” on our money?” Here is a quote from one edition of the New Testament: “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? (Matt. 22:15–17). Jesus saw through their trickery immediately. They thought Jesus would be forced to give an answer that would trap Him no matter what He said. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he said to them them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:18–21).

—When I look around my commercial surroundings, I see: Christmas symbols strung up around suburban towns; inflatable manger scenes on the front lawns of churches; a more tasteful crèche in my home town erected on public property by the town; eggnog sampled at Whole Foods, Christmas music playing in stores; a giant Christmas tree in the lobby of our office building; catalogers promising delivery by December 24; and so on, and so on. In short, there are no shortages of public displays and acknowledgements of Christmas.

What seems undeniably at work in this imaginary conflict advanced by conservative commentators, and cheered on by conservative office-holders, ministers and advocates is an attempt to elevate Christianity in the public/marketing square above other religions. It’s simply not enough to these people that stores, schools and towns advertise or decorate in a motif that adequately gets across a holiday feeling that would encompass Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

To them, Christianity must be at least one step higher on the social/commercial plane, or they aren’t happy. Look—in terms of the impact on the economy, does anyone doubt that Christmas packs more wallop than Hanukkah and Kwanzaa? Is it necessary to ram it down people’s throats? Did President Bush, as an aside, in his speech last night need to mention Americans celebrating Hannukkah and Christmas in another week or so, and leave out Kwanzaa? I wonder why he did that?

As a Christmas-celebrating, church-attending Christian, I am baffled by the indignation being expressed over a creeping secularism in the public schools, town halls and commercial marketplace. In my reading of the bible, all the expressions of Christmas being singled out by the complainers are those that, according to my upbringing by a Father who was an ordained Deacon, would likely cause Jesus to turn over the tables as he did in the temple. Christmas sales? Holiday sales sound better to my ear.

I have friends who don’t like to celebrate their birthdays, and really hate the idea of a party being planned and thrown for them as the center of attention. Taking in this absurd conversation in the media marketplace the last few days, I think Jesus probably is getting to feel the same way.

Reader Comments

HighJive

December 20, 2005 2:56 PM

Just a few quick responses:

1. An atheist in Sacramento did recently bring a lawsuit against the federal government, seeking to remove “In God We Trust” from all coins and currency. The courts will probably say, “For God’s sake, do you realize how much money that would cost?”

2. The conservative protesters picketing Wal-Mart need to get a grip on reality. Retailers like Wal-Mart thrive on servicing large groups of customers. If Wal-Mart started catering to exclusive audiences, they’d go out of business. Then even the protesters would be forced to stampede elsewhere for cheap plasma TVs and sterling silver jewelry.

3. It’ll be interesting to see how religious folks respond to your post. You’ve provided them with plenty of incentive to launch a protest against BusinessWeek — or at least picket around your PC as you type your next blog entry.

Happy Holidays. Or Merry Christmas.

Gigi Fernandez

December 20, 2005 10:36 PM

The logic in this article is flawed. There no connection between ministers decrying the COMMERCIALIZATION of Christmas (which most conservative Christians acknowledge and oppose as well) and the PRESSURE exerted on wide sections of the society, including businesses, to exclude the mention of Christmas or the Christmas story in order to cater to special interests, or to prevent frivolous lawsuits.

If you don't think that Christmas is under attack, you haven't spent much time outside your dwelling place watching the show develop. Then again, most people see what they wish to see and hear what they wish to hear.

Stephen Hunton

December 21, 2005 10:14 AM

I think it's so interesting how this has become such an external issue. To me, Christmas has taken on 2 completely seperate meanings:

1) It's the day in which "Christian" families sit around their Christmas tree and enjoy being together, opening presents, and potentially drinking too much eggnog. There's nothing wrong with this event, it's about friends and family, giving, love, etc. I love this time at home.

and

2) It is Jesus Christ's birthday, period. For literal Christians (for which I have been one since 18 years old), it's the day the Christ was born, and ultimately the beginning of His purpose on earth...to bring life to those who would accept it.

NOW, the two can live together, but for me, #2 is the actual reason for the Christmas holiday, and it's something that is internally special and can't be ruined by the verbiage (Happy Holidays, or Holiday Sales, or Holiday Trees. Who cares if Wal-mart doesn't want to call something "Christmas"? They have a gagillion customers of all walks of like that are celebrating during this time and I don't feel it's necessary to shout "It's not a Holiday Sale, it's a Christmas Sale!"...HOWEVER, from a business perspective, I think that renaming things such as christmas trees is pretty rediculous, because I SERIOUSLY doubt that there are too many non-christmas celebrating families that honestly look at the trees during December and think to themselves..."Gee, you know...that would look pretty good in our house for our hannukah party..." no, everyone knows that it's called a "Christmas Tree" by nickname. And I realize that Lowe's probably isn't trying to sell the trees to non-christmas shoppers, but they're trying to include everyone which is silly for something like a christmas tree. I think it's more alienating to the non-christmas celebrators because it's so obvious what the tactic is...not to be inclusive for the betterment of the world, but to be inclusive so that there isn't a sales dip because Jews are ticked off that the store they're in says "christmas _____" on a banner...

To be inclusive would be to call out all holidays, NOT try to lump them together.

John Jenkins

December 29, 2005 4:39 PM

Excellent article with many good points. However, I still think that it's hypocritical and insulting for retailers to fall over themselves to capture Christmas business, while refusing to even say the "C-word".

However, it looks like many retailers have finally determined that it's ok to say Christmas, just in time for the "after Christmas" sales. LOL Some retailers are sticking to their politically-correct guns, and are advertising "post-holiday sales", which I think is inconsiderate to non-Christians, since Hannukah and Kwanzaa aren't even over...

Despite these retailer's high-minded preaching about diversity, I can only conclude that for them the word "holiday" was just a code-word for Christmas afterall.

Brandon

January 4, 2006 11:38 AM

Interestingly, Jesus and his followers gave up all their belongings to Jesus' temple at Qumran and lived lives of poverty. Before the Romans adopted Christianity (well, *enforced* Christianity) and turned it into an institution of power in Europe the religion taught that being a Christian was to be poor, meek, separated from and "above" the rest of the world.

And now Christianity thinks it should be in control of the world. Unfortunately, fundamentalist Muslims who think Islam should rule the world are at odds with fundamentalist Christians that think Christianity should rule the world, and now we have a nice little perpetual war to deal with.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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