Blow Up Santa Claus Christmas

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Is it my imagination, or does it seem like more retailers have invited me to have a “Merry Christmas” more often than “Happy Holidays?” Are we really starting to see the so-called “War on Christmas” pendulum swing back toward recognizing the coming of the King?

Last week I stopped at my favorite salon in town for a little pre-Christmas glitter, and admired the beautiful ornaments on the tree in the corner. The owner said she’d put up the tree in spite of the advice she got from the property’s owner to skip the tree altogether–for PC reasons. “I’m getting braver. A few years ago when I worked for (A Well-Known National Department Store), we were instructed by management not to ever utter the words ‘Merry Christmas,’ or we’d be in trouble,” she said.

Trouble. These past two years seasonal work has been highly competitive. If I’m fired for bucking the system and saying Merry Christmas to a customer, I can quickly be replaced but I might not get another chance to pay the heat bill or buy gifts.

I’ve often wondered, can we really expect an entire retail industry keep Christ in Christmas when A) we don’t do that great a job at it ourselves, and B) they may not even know who He is to begin with? And how will they experience Him through us if we snarl back, “it’s ‘Christmas,’ you idiots–CHRIST-mas!”

Now let me just say that in these tough economic times, no business owner in his or her right mind would want to risk losing customers over what should be a nice seasonal exchange of pleasantries. Retailers are driven by making their November/December sales targets, and this year could be make-or-break time for staying in business in 2011.

All that being said, I am definitely not imagining the upswing in the Christmas greetings from store clerks.

According to Advertising Age magazine, more national retail chains are bravely speaking the word Christmas than ever before. Last week the marketing and media trends magazine interviewed Randy Sharp from the American Family Association, and wrote:

“The AFA has seen the percentage of retailers recognizing Christmas in their advertising rise from 20% to 80%. Struggling to find big, national retailers on which to focus its efforts — or ones that might listen at any rate — the group settled on Dick’s Sporting Goods. It’s sin? Hosting a “Holiday Shop” on its website. Within a week of the AFA announcing it was targeting Dick’s, the retailer gave in.

Perhaps we’ve been too hard on retailers and marketing gurus.  According to Ellen Davis, a VP at the National Retail Federation, the backlash we saw a few years ago to the generic holiday messaging likely caught retailers off-guard. She believes that the phrasing we’re hearing this year is much more strategic.  “At this point, it’s a conscious decision. It’s not just whimsical phrases being tossed around in the marketing department,” she said.

And so the word Christmas really is beginning to win the war on Christmas in marketing messages. And that means many more clerks, cashiers and service providers are merrily putting Christ back in Christmas.

But as Ad Age Magazine sadly notes, Christians are “…watching as one of their holiest days has its soul replaced with blinking lights, ringing cash registers and Santa Claus. Efforts by the AFA and others have done little more than put the Wal-Mart back in Christmas.”