The day after Thanksgiving is "Black Friday," the traditional start of the December holiday shopping season.
Nervous retailers are watching the bottom line, fretful that the economic downturn will reduce the throngs that usually swamp malls and big box stores on this day.
But Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family has a different worry: Dobson and his band of Religious Right "Christmas Police" are fretting that Americans might accidentally shop at a store that fails to use the proper religiously correct terminology. Thus, they've prepared a handy list for us to use.
Back in April, FOF sent letters to the heads of 33 leading retailers, demanding that they use the term "Christmas" in their 2008 end-of-year catalogs. Let me emphasize that: They did this in April. Easter wasn't even over yet, and these cranks were obsessing about catalogs that wouldn't even be issued for another seven months.
I'm trying to imagine the rolling of eyes that must have taken place at some of these companies when FOF's letters about Christmas arrived just as the spring flowers were pushing up through the soil. My guess is that most of letters were tossed, because as of Nov. 11, FOF had not received replies from 22 companies (among them Target, K-Mart, JC Penney, Home Depot, Borders, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Sears, Lands' End and L.L. Bean).
Eight firms caved immediately: Best Buy, Cabela's, Kohl's, Lowe's, Nordstrom, Pier 1, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart.
The Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy replied to the FOF missive, but, the group soberly reports, "did not convey a clear commitment to use the term 'Christmas.' Rather, they communicated their intent to approach their marketing in broad and diverse terms."
Added FOF, "We'll have to observe and see if what they publish avoids an insulting marginalization of Christmas."
"An insulting marginalization of Christmas"? Take a pill, FOF folks. You're getting way too worked up about this. Relax. Have some eggnog.
Is what FOF & Co. suggest even practical? Consider these three questions that I have for FOF and the Christmas Police:
1. What are we supposed to do about companies that are clearly trying to play both sides? Like just about everyone else, I'm being inundated with catalogs these days. Sometimes a firm will issue a catalog marked "Christmas" and then just a few days later send another, containing the same goods, that is not labeled "Christmas." (The Vermont Country Store is famous for this.) What am I supposed to do – count up all of the catalogs and shop there only if the majority mention Christmas? Or is one slight of Christmas enough to trigger a boycott?
2. What if a catalog mentions Christmas but sells items that are, let's say, not much in the spirit of the Religious Right's conception of Christmas? Under Dobson's hard-and-fast rule, if a firm marketing adult DVDs puts out a catalog announcing a Christmas sale, it must be OK to buy there, right?
3. Am I obligated to hold national chains responsible for the behavior of clerks? If the guy running the checkout line at K-Mart fails to wish me a "Merry Christmas," should I assume this was because of some anti-Christmas directive from the national headquarters and start berating him? Would it be acceptable to go to the manager and demand to see the memo from corporate banning any mention of Christmas?
Here's a better idea: Celebrate whatever holiday you like, and shop wherever you want. Personally, this year I'm going to be a lot more concerned about the deals I can get, not what words appear on catalogs or the way I'm greeted before I swipe my credit card.
I'm hopeful that we'll soon see the end of this nonsense. The Religious Right has been carping about the so-called "War on Christmas" for years now, and the media and general public seem to be losing interest.
With luck, maybe next year we'll get the best gift of all: an end to the Religious Right's silly claims that there is a "War on Christmas."