Retailers Urging ‘Happy Holidays’ Instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ Rumor

In Christmas 2005, rumors began to fly of what so-called “greeting wars” between Christians and American retailers. This long-debunked story, which at its core reflects xenophobic paranoia, is resurrected and weaponized every year by the same disinformation purveyors.

It appears to have originated with a book:

The most organized attack on Christmas came from the Puritans, who banned celebrations of the holiday in the 17th century because it did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible.

Fast forward 400 years, and the idea of a plot against Christmas gained wide publicity when Fox News promoted a 2005 book by a radio host, John Gibson, that alleged liberal antagonism toward the holiday, according to Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Mr. Gibson said in an interview that he was “amazed” by the uproar his book caused.

He said it primarily focused on an issue that rarely happens anymore: educators and local officials banning nonreligious symbols like Santa Claus or Christmas trees out of a mistaken belief that displaying them violated the Constitution.

It didn’t take long for opportunists to step in. Almost immediately, the American Family Association — a far-right activist group that organizes boycotts, against, among other things, what it calls a “radical homosexual agenda,” and whose employees are not shy about airing their views about Muslims, former United States President Barack Obama, and the “sexual immorality” of indigenous Americans — posted a petition on their website for people to sign in protest of decisions it said had been made by several retailers to ban the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” in advertising and in-store promotion.  The American Family Association action was originally about Target stores, which it said had banned using “Merry Christmas” in its stores — a charge that Target unequivocally denied and which is easily debunked by a brief visit to their website.

Former Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, who was subsequently fired and forced to pay millions to settle myriad credible sexual assault claims, did a show on which he offered a list of retailers who he claimed — falsely, as it turned out — refused to use “Merry Christmas” in their store advertising.

Not one to let such an opportunity go by unremarked upon, televangelist and Teletubbies foe Jerry Falwell lent his support to the “Friend of Foe Christmas Campaign” that was launched by the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel, which promised to take legal action against anyone who spread what it saw as “misinformation” about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces. This, too, was a hoax.

There was also a brief protest against Wal-Mart led by the Catholic League, which claimed that Walmart was discriminating against Christmas while promoting alternative holiday celebrations such as Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. As proof, the Catholic League published the contents of an email it says was received by a woman who wrote to Walmart to complain that “Merry Christmas” was being replaced by “Happy Holidays.”  According to the Catholic League, the response said:

Walmart is a world wide organization and must remain conscious of this. The majority of the world still has different practices other than “christmas” which is an ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism. The colors associated with “christmas” red and white are actually a representation of of the aminita mascera mushroom. Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world.

Walmart said that it apologized for the email and fired the employee who wrote it:

Wal-Mart spokesperson Dan Fogleman confirmed the original note was written by a Wal-Mart representative named Kirby. He responded: “We at Wal-Mart believe this e-mail between a temporary associate and one of our valued customers was entirely inappropriate. Its contents in no way represent the policies, practices or views of our company. This associate, who was hired less than three weeks ago, is no longer employed by our company.”

Fogleman apologized for the employee’s comments, calling them “inappropriate and inflammatory.”

The original rumor as presented in various forwarded emails in 2005 was that large retailers such as Walmart and Target were minimizing “Christmas” and emphasizing “holidays” at the end of the year, and even telling their employees to stop using “Merry Christmas” in favor of the more inclusive “Happy Holidays.” This rumor also contains a not-so-subtle subtext of xenophobia, falsely implying (or sometimes saying outright) that America’s purported Christian traditions, which fly in the face of the United States’ own Constitution, have been upended by foreign and anti-religious entities.

Despite the obviously specious nature of the claims, variations of these rumors are still trotted out every December. They remain false.

Note: This page has been updated. You can read the original here. -bb