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A not-so-jolly holiday with Wal-Mart

Kimberley Burkart | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A few weeks ago, Wal-Mart informed the media that it would resume its use of the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ in its Christmas-related advertising.

Oh, how I wish there was nothing remarkable about this. But it’s quite a breakthrough in a world where corporations become contortionists in their attempts at political correctness.

Why this sudden reversal? Last year, Wal-Mart’s refusal to wish anyone a Merry Christmas, opting instead for the secular Happy Holidays, resulted in that most clearly heard of outcries. Sales went down.

Ah, capitalism. Gotta love it.

I’m just a simple columnist, one who, when driven into the outside world to buy shampoo or paper towels, regularly finds herself lost in the maze of the modern consumer world. But even I could have told Wal-Mart that boycotting the word Christmas would reduce its Christmas sales.

Why, then, did they do it? Here are a few possibilities.

Possibility No. 1: It was a ploy to make money. After years of marketing its Christmas merchandise as Christmas this or that, Wal-Mart noticed that Jewish and Muslim families never bought any of it. Therefore, it launched an ill-fated attempt to trick these people into accidentally buying Fiber-Optic Christmas Trees by advertising them as Fiber-Optic Holiday Firs. Or something.

Possibility No. 2: It was a ploy to save money on advertisements. Merry Christmas has fourteen letters, Happy Holidays has thirteen. The more blasé among us may find this trivial, but on a large scale – the Wal-Mart scale -that’s a lot of toner.

Possibility No. 3: Happy Holidays is an alliterative phrase. And assuredly, alliterative advertisements always attract Americans. Agree?

Possibility No. 4: It was a ploy to get the maybe 14 people in the country who are actually offended by the word “Christmas” to shop at Wal-Mart and boycott other stores that do use the word “Christmas.” This is probably the most compelling possibility, which compared to the others isn’t saying much.

There are people in the country who, for various cultural or religious reasons, do not celebrate Christmas. There are also people, like some Jehovah’s Witnesses, who legitimately believe that the celebration of Christmas is morally wrong. Now, this kind of diversity has been celebrated throughout American history. We all know that the reason the Pilgrims got on the Mayflower was that they didn’t want to belong to the Church of England, and one reason they didn’t like it was that it made much of Christmas as a celebration, while they thought it should be somber day of prayer and fasting.

Christmas protesters, then, are a part of American history. Good for them. They can and do address the issue however they choose. Sometimes they just boycott Christmas amongst themselves. Sometimes they go around trying to convince other people to do the same.

One thing I am certain they never do is go to the store and buy tinsel and light-up snowmen and nativity sets because they’re labeled “Holiday” and not “Christmas.”

And they certainly don’t deny that Christmas exists. I mean, if they really believe Christmas is the calamity they say it is, they have to recognize the problem, right? Recognize that there is a celebration called Christmas in which some 96 percent of the country participates. I assure you, the Jehovah’s Witnesses know that.

Besides calling it the Holidays doesn’t solve the problem. As for striking religious references in all public places, well, every thinking person knows that on those grounds Wal-Mart needed to change it to something other than Holidays. Holi-day equals Holy day, Holy equals Religion, you can figure out the rest. They should have chosen something else – perhaps the Secular Season of Mutual Gifting.

But it’s too late for that. For whatever reason, Wal-Mart thought that boycotting the word Christmas would attract lots of Christmas shoppers.

What really happened is that lots and lots of mothers read about how progressive Wal-Mart was in the newspaper and then bought Dora’s Talking Kitchen and the Sesame Street Wriggle and Jiggle Tool Bench elsewhere, because they disliked Wal-Mart’s treating the word Christmas the way it treats racial slurs and obscenities.

Or else because they’d heard Wal-Mart wasn’t having Christmas sales last year.

Kimberley Burkart is a sophomore English major at Saint Mary’s College. She can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.