For years, the American Family Association (AFA), a gang of dour Christian nationalist neo-Puritans in Tupelo, Miss., would issue a “Naughty Or Nice” list every holiday season that rated giant retailers on one question: Did they or did they not use the word “Christmas” in their ads?
I went looking for this year’s list but couldn’t find it on the AFA’s website. It turns out that last year, another group, Liberty Counsel (LC), took over the duties of being the Christmas Police. You can see the list here.
To create the list, LC scrutinizes store websites, looking for mentions of the word “Christmas,” and they survey how much Christmas-related merchandise is on offer.
LC is just as obsessive as the AFA ever was, and it seems as if some companies just can’t win. Target, for example, uses the word Christmas on its site – but not often enough to please LC.
“Christmas is mentioned but it is not a main focus,” the group grumps. (At least Target is doing better than Rite-Aid, where, according to LC, the drug store chain dares to use the dreaded word “holiday.”)
I feel sorry for the sad staffers at LC who had to pore over all those websites, frantically tallying up every appearance of the word “Christmas” – but I feel even sorrier for anyone who takes this seriously.
All that matters on this list is the use of a few words. A company could be selling goods made in a sweatshop that employs child labor and still make the “Nice” list simply because it puts the word “Christmas” on its website more times than it uses the word “holiday.” That’s as good an indication of any of the morality behind this effort.
Despite the ongoing bluster of Christian nationalist groups, the “war on Christmas” has lost much of its sheen since the Fox News Channel canned Bill O’Reilly, who was its leading general. The effort plods along, and groups like Liberty Counsel probably raise a few bucks off it, but it feels pro forma these days.
Americans don’t want to fight a war over Christmas. Those who celebrate the holiday want to do it in a way that’s meaningful for them, which may mean a wholly religious approach, a wholly secular one or something in between. At the same time, millions of Americans celebrate another holiday or don’t celebrate at all. We get to choose! That’s true freedom. (And you know what, sometimes people use a phrase like “Happy Holidays” because they aren’t sure which holiday, if any, a person celebrates, and they don’t want to make assumptions or give offense. That’s called being a decent human being. The Christian nationalists ought to try it.)
To the Religious Right’s Christmas Police, there’s only one way to celebrate the holiday – their way.
No thanks. America’s founders gave us something better: freedom of conscience resting on a wall of separation between church and state.
What a great gift! Open it early and use it often.