Who’s Been Naughty, Who’s Been Nice?: The AFA Explains It All For You

The "Christmas Police" at the American Family Association are at it again.

If you’re like me, you’ve been sitting around anxiously awaiting the release of the American Family Association’s “Naughty or Nice” list of retailers for the 2015 holiday season.

Just kidding. I haven’t been awaiting the release of this list – and I suspect you haven’t either – but the AFA sent it to me earlier this week, so let’s take a look at it, shall we?

If you’re just joining us, the AFA, a large Religious Right outfit based in Tupelo, Miss., convenes every year about this time and pores over ads issued by big box stores, faceless corporations, restaurant chains, etc. looking for something to get offended over. Failure to use the word “Christmas” in ads is sure to unleash a torrent of whining from the AFA’s legions of fundamentalist Christmas crusaders.

The group releases this list every year because the AFA is – how shall I put this nicely? – just a tad obsessive-compulsive about ensuring that everyone uses the proper, Poinsettia-correct terminology during the popular December holiday.

I’ve taken to calling them the “Christmas Police.” And I’ve wondered exactly how the AFA executes this project. I mean, do people really spend hours scrutinizing ads, cruising websites and visiting stores to examine the language and the decorations used?

Apparently so. This year the AFA provided some details: “AFA reviewed up to four areas to determine if a company was ‘Christmas-friendly’ in their advertising: print media (newspaper inserts), broadcast media (radio/television), website and/or personal visits to the store. If a company’s ad has references to items associated with Christmas (trees, wreaths, lights, etc.), it was considered as an attempt to reach ‘Christmas’ shoppers.”

Talk about a lousy seasonal job! Imagine being at a social function and asking another guest what he or she does. Comes the answer: “Well, I go to Ross Dress for Less and examine the holiday decorations and then send a detailed report back to a bunch of people in Tupelo who obviously have way too much time on their hands.”

Honestly, I’d rather work in a fruitcake factory.

And here’s the thing I don’t get: All that matters, it seems, is if a stores uses the proper terminology (use of the word “Christmas”) and decorations as determined by the Christmas Police. So the owner of Larry’s 24-Hour Porn Emporium can hang up a wreath with a ribbon on it – a symbol that has nothing to do with the religious aspects of Christmas, by the way – toss in a sign reading “Merry Christmas” and by the AFA’s metric that rates better than a store that sells Bibles and religious goods but has erected a “Happy Holidays” sign.

That’s good to know.

But let’s get to the meat of things. If you’re a neurotic fundamentalist Christian who follows the AFA slavishly, here’s where you can shop or eat for the rest of the year: Cracker Barrel, Hobby Lobby, Lowe’s, Michael’s and Wal-Mart. All of those firms got five-star ratings, the AFA’s highest honor.

Forty-seven companies got “nice” ratings, which means the AFA has determined that they used the word “Christmas” enough times to satisfy the Christmas Police. This list includes Amazon, Bass Pro Shops, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, J. C. Penney, Kmart, Pier One Imports, Target and TJ Maxx.

But things go downhill from there. The “marginal” list consists of 13 companies that use “Christmas” occasionally but not nearly enough to keep the Christmas Police happy. Firms here include Best Buy, CVS, Safeway and Starbucks. (Sure, first that red cup, now this!)

Then we hit the real dregs. Twelve retailers committed the horrible crime of using the word “Christmas” but only “sparingly in a single or unique product description.” These companies, we are told, generally “do not recognize it.”

I’m going to list all 12 because if you’re like me, you’ll want to do most of your shopping here just to annoy the AFA: Barnes & Noble, Family Dollar, Foot Locker, The Limited, Maurice’s, Office Depot, Office Max, PetSmart, Staples, Stein Mart, Supervalu and Victoria’s Secret. (Victoria’s Secret is on the “naughty” list! Why am I not surprised?)

Despite these slackers, Tim Wildmon, president of the AFA, said in a press release that the “war on Christmas” is pretty much over and that his side won.

“This battle has very nearly been won,” Wildmon said. “Let’s politely remind the handful of companies on the ‘Naughty’ list that there’s nothing wrong with the word ‘Christmas.’ Maybe next year we can retire the Naughty or Nice list altogether.”

Fat chance! The fake war on Christmas has been much too lucrative for the Religious Right. I don’t think they’ll shut it down. They make money selling pro-Christmas tchotchkes, and of course what would the Fox News Chanel do if the war on Christmas ended? 

I have fun with the uptight gang at the AFA during the holiday season, but I have to admit there are times when I’d like to bring the whole fake “war” crashing down. There is one way to do that. It’s extreme, but it may be time.

That’s right: Summon Krampus and hand him a map of Mississippi.