Wal-Mart Wishes Boycotters a Happy Holiday

Discussion
Nov 11, 2005

By George Anderson


‘Tis the season to boycott retailers and this year it’s Wal-Mart’s turn.


The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has launched a boycott of Wal-Mart for its use of the term “Happy Holidays” in its seasonal promotion rather than “Merry Christmas.” The group contends Wal-Mart discriminates against Christmas.


Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said in a released statement: “Here is why I am asking the leaders of 126 religious organizations that span seven religious communities to boycott Wal-Mart. Go to its website and search for Hanukkah and up come 200 items. Click on Kwanzaa and up come 77. Click on Christmas, and here’s what you get: ‘We’ve brought you to our “Holiday” page based on your search.’ In other words, Wal-Mart is practicing discrimination.”


Dan Fogleman, senior manager, public relations, Wal-Mart, said, “As a retailer, we recognize some of our customers may be shopping for Chanukah or Kwanza gifts during this time of year and we certainly want these customers in our stores and to feel welcome, just as we do those buying for Christmas. As an employer, we recognize the significance of the Christmas holiday among our family of associates… and close our stores in observance, the only day during the year that we are closed.”


Mr. Donohue said, “It’s nice to know that Wal-Mart is closed on a federal holiday.”


The brouhaha over Wal-Mart’s alleged discrimination against Christmas resulted from a response from a customer service representative when a customer objected to the “Happy Holidays” language.


The temporary worker, only identified as Kirby, offered this response: “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 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.”


Mr. Donohue said Wal-Mart needs to fulfill three conditions to set things right with him and others who feel as he does. “We want a) an apology for insulting Christians by effectively banning Christmas and b) a withdrawal of its insane statement regarding the origins of Christmas and c) a revision on its website.”


Wal-Mart’s intention to stand by its position brought this response from Mr. Donohue: “I hope you’re (Wal-Mart) ready for our next move. Don’t forget, we have the next six weeks to pull out all the stops, and we will.”


Moderator’s Comment: What are your thoughts on Wal-Mart’s position on the language it uses to describe the holiday season and its corporate response
to the criticism it has received over the issue? Will the boycott be settled amicably and, if not, will it have any noticeable impact on Wal-Mart’s sales?

George Anderson – Moderator

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33 Comments on "Wal-Mart Wishes Boycotters a Happy Holiday"


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Rich Hill
Guest
Rich Hill
16 years 6 months ago

Are you kidding me? I have two problems with this: 1) That anyone would make such a ridiculous claim and, 2) That retailwire.com would take the time to feature this.

Douglas Gray
Guest
Douglas Gray
16 years 6 months ago

Wal-Mart Anti-Christian? They prominently display religious reading materials in all of their stores. Hold Wal-Mart accountable for written statements and not a response from an individual employee.

As a business, we send “Happy Holiday” cards in recognition that we work with diverse groups of people. As a manager, I don’t make it my mission to know the religious affiliation of the people I do business with. Religious leaders need to focus on more important problems facing their followers.

There may be many reasons that someone may not want to shop at Wal-Mart, but to flag them as anti-Christmas is absurd. If they ban Christmas decorations from the aisles, then maybe there will be something to discuss.

Mark Barnhouse
Guest
Mark Barnhouse
16 years 6 months ago
I commented in that previous discussion last December, and I can’t resist saying something here. 1. “Kirby” has been blessed by natural selection and good upbringing with a fine brain (and a big mouth). What he said was a lot more than the situation called for, but he knows a lot more about actual history than the person who claimed he was speaking nonsense. 2. Read the article by Craig Unger in the December issue of Vanity Fair, in which he explores, among other things, the success of Tim LaHaye’s absurdly bestselling (and rabidly, even sadistically, anti-secular) “Left Behind” series. Who is the #1 seller of “Left Behind,” and which retailer has near exclusivity on in-store appearances by the authors? You guessed it: Wal-Mart. Is W-M anti-Christian? Hardly. 3. As I said last year, it was R. H. Macy & Co. and similar retailers that invented modern Christmas with its fancy decorations, massive gift-giving, and emphasis on material things. That was a different time. It’s important in our time that any retailer (except Christian and… Read more »
Nycole Kelly
Guest
Nycole Kelly
16 years 6 months ago

I would generally agree with the Catholic League (even though I am not Catholic myself) in their frustration over the removal of the word “Christmas” in so much public life. This is a fair debate to have.

However, it’s not true. I went to Wal-Mart’s website, typed “Christmas” in the search engine, and got 7,967 results – not a re-directed “Holiday” page, but truly “Christmas.” Compare that 7,967 to the 200 and 77 items relating to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and the whole basis for the Catholic League’s “boycott” is in error. If it were true, I might take issue, but it’s not.

As for the specific employee’s comments, he should be reprimanded and trained on customer service, but the entire Wal-Mart organization is not “anti-Christmas” because of this one employee.

I find it interesting that many of us railed about bad press, but never checked out the facts ourselves either.
That’s my 2-cents.

David Fish
Guest
David Fish
16 years 6 months ago

Since when did the Catholic League start supporting Scrooge and his ways? Get a life and leave one of the biggest contributors to our economy alone. Not to mention all of the employees that depend on their livelihood from Wal-Mart who then donate to all of the Catholic charities and so called fundraisers.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
16 years 6 months ago

Just an observation, but many of the comments today seem to share a common theme: Those who stand for something religion-based are somehow out-of-line. The trend today, it seems, is that when people stand for anything at all, they stand for “not that.” I could be wrong.

When did we stop admiring people who have the courage of their moral convictions, even when we disagree with them? Perhaps when standing for something became unfashionable and politically incorrect.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
16 years 6 months ago
Thank God, ooops… Thank goodness it’s Friday, the “let it all hang out” day. And today’s questions seem adaptable to “letting it all hang out” a little. If you accept that premise, proceed. Otherwise, skip this and go to the next comment. Since controversy will likely become an increasing part of the “retail infinitum,” perhaps resumption of a past naming approach might now be retaken and expanded. And there would no better initiator or capitalizer than Wal-Mart if they have the stomach – or perhaps, stupidity – to be more holiday specific in naming their sales events, which they apparently are not. This is not to say Wal-Mart isn’t financially savvy in their current approach. Anyway, what might happen? They could lead retailing by only identifying ALL their sales by the name of the nearest religious or ethnic holiday, i.e., Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Ramadan, Cinco de Mayo and so on for all existing holidays that now qualify. They could then create additional sales for emerging American holidays yet to be identified or… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

I disagree with a couple of voices above who suggest that this is an inappropriate topic for RW. How a retailer should behave toward its diverse customer base is THE central topic for this forum.

Yes the debate seems silly on some levels. It’s a shrill critic publicly threatening a large commercial entity for changing one word in an advertising headline; waiting for them to err further in response; then threatening them further. Regardless of one’s religious feelings, the rhetoric and tactics employed are embarrassing.

The staffer who cited the interesting trivia about the diverse possible origins of a handful of symbols currently associated with Christmas was ill-advised to be certain. He/she should be coached to avoid needlessly educating the public because, as this incident proves, there is no percentage in it.

George Anderson
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

The Catholic League has called off its boycott after receiving an apology from Wal-Mart. Bill Donohue said, “This is a sweet victory for the Catholic League, Christians in general, and people of all faiths.”

Nycole Kelly
Guest
Nycole Kelly
16 years 6 months ago

FYI, I did a little more digging, and Wal-Mart has already removed that employee and apologized for insensitive comments.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

As a career curmudgeon, I intend to file a protest against Wal-Mart for daring to suggest that the holidays be happy. What about all us cynics who love to stew in our own bile?

Joleen David
Guest
Joleen David
16 years 6 months ago

A recent quotation from our local newspaper:
“The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan values and ends is . . . the source of all religious fanaticism.”
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

OK, someone overstepped, probably expressing some personal animosity toward Christians and Christmas. Right or wrong, it wasn’t Wal-Mart, per se. The “handicap seating on the bus” example sounds about right to me.

As a business, we try to avoid this whole problem by sending out Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas cards. That obviously wouldn’t work for Wal-Mart who has to deal with many, many millions of consumers. I think they have handled this just about right.

Elisa Wood
Guest
Elisa Wood
16 years 6 months ago

With the incredible problems in this world currently involving religion, this may be the most inane thing I have ever heard or seen.

Boycott Wal-Mart, boycott the TV stations, boycott your city and state governments…..or maybe find something important to be passionate about. Not whether “they” say Happy Holidays.

Good Grief!

George Anderson
Guest
George Anderson
16 years 6 months ago

The “holiday” is Christmas. The federal government shuts down for Christmas. Wal-Mart, and every other retailer, is selling goods that wind up under someone’s Christmas tree. We’ve gone way too far with all of this political correctness.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
16 years 6 months ago

Another example of groups “without a clue” being given a voice by the media. It would seem that “the media,” however, cannot quite make up its mind what is important and continues to do nothing but chase headlines. This isn’t news, it’s trivia and shouldn’t be given any attention.

Jim Dickson
Guest
Jim Dickson
16 years 6 months ago

Another Hallmark moment (or should it be Kodak, as their sales are down). What’s next? Ban “Season’s Greetings”? I agree with ‘hill’ that this should not be an issue for RetailWire.

carl KROOP
Guest
carl KROOP
16 years 6 months ago

Very simple question–Would they rather they have nothing at all? Or maybe signs saying “Happy Hannukah” and bury the Christmas items in a small area in some place in the store you can’t find? They could keep the store open on Christmas and closed on Yom Kippur. They should try that one year and let the Christian world sees how it feels.

Dave Wilkening
Guest
Dave Wilkening
16 years 6 months ago

This bru ha ha is amusing, at best. The complaint is silly. I also agree that this may make pretty good publicity for Wal-Mart.

Now, let’s have a round of protest from Hanukkah and Kwanzaa activists because the Catholic League is up by nearly 7,000 goodies on Wal-Mart’s web site!

Happy Holidays. I’m going shopping…. at Wal-Mart.

Susan Martin
Guest
Susan Martin
16 years 6 months ago

But “Kirby” is on the money on this one. He missed that Christmas is on December 25 because it was easier to lure people to the new religion when they were already gearing up to party for the Solstice. They’ve some proof that Jesus was a Pisces.

Jeff Lynch
Guest
Jeff Lynch
16 years 6 months ago

As a Christian, I am absolutely NOT offended by Wal-Mart wishing a “Happy Holidays.” I don’t think the Christmas trees they sell are for Kwanza.

By the way…shouldn’t the Catholic League be well aware that for people of a Christian/Catholic faith, Christmas is not a holiday about purchasing gifts, and that it’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Isn’t their boycott then misplaced? They can go protest “Happy Holiday” cakes because they don’t say “Happy Birthday Jesus.”

Richard Kronrad
Guest
Richard Kronrad
16 years 6 months ago

This entire argument is inane. Catholics should be respected and also have respect for all other religions. Happy Holidays is a perfect expression that is all inclusive.

Neil Thall
Guest
Neil Thall
16 years 6 months ago

The boycott against Wal-Mart launched recently by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is really nonsensical, and Wal-Mart shoppers will realize it. It’s the holiday season in the US melting pot, and that means people of all religious affiliations will be out buying gifts, spending money, and generally feeling the holiday mood. For Wal-Mart to tailor its holiday message for specific religions would be absurd.

Mark Lilien
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

I’m sure the boycott will have no effect but it would be good PR for Wal-Mart to point out its commitment to Christmas. Everyone in retailing has had the experience of dealing with members of the public who threaten, bully, and are offended by something never intended to be offensive. And when you have 1.2 million employees, there will be some employees who offend people. Many people know that there would be no retailing in this country except for food stores if there were no Christmas because Christmas is the only time most retailers make any money. So does this make Jesus the patron saint of retailing? It is a shame that religion, which should be a positive, is often used to create pain.

David Livingston
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

Wal-Mart is going to offend someone no matter what they do. Even if they wished the entire world a rotten Christmas, they will still have cars backed up for blocks trying to get into their stores this holiday season. Boycotting Wal-Mart by religious groups is like boycotting Las Vegas because they have gambling. It won’t matter.

Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
16 years 6 months ago

This is a the largest retailer ever with over a million employees and they are being held accountable for what one temp employee allegedly said to one customer over the phone??#**!!!. This is really not a legitimate topic …of course they acknowledge, celebrate and support Christmas. Because of their size and success, they are often unfairly demonized. I suspect much of this type of negative publicity is being created and spread by their union enemies. There are plenty of real issues that revolve around Wal-Mart but this is not one of them.

Warren Thayer
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

This is sort of like getting on a cross-town bus, seeing seats “Reserved for the Handicapped” and, seeing no signs for the non-handicapped, saying that the bus company is discriminating against the non-handicapped. All the Wal-Mart execs who I know personally celebrate Christmas. I just don’t see how you can say Wal-Mart is “banning” Christmas. Um, Merry Christmas, okay? (Am I allowed to say that?)

Ron Margulis
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

This issue won’t be around Monday mostly because Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has proven to be someone who likes to hear himself speak. It was Donohue who said last year on MSNBC, “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.” Here’s a man who constantly complains about stereotyping and then consistently does it himself.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
16 years 6 months ago

This comes under the heading of “no good deed goes unpunished.” Anything a big corporation does these days is going to offend someone. Trying to be PC, and maybe aware of religious traditions other than Christianity, Wal-Mart finds itself in hot water. By the way, the web site “problem” is already fixed, as a search for “Christmas” now takes you directly to 7,000+ items.

I think the best solution is to let the market dictate what items to carry, link them to appropriate holidays in the search engine, and have associates use the generic “happy holidays.” Otherwise, someone will be offended because they don’t celebrate Christmas but were wished a happy one. What a world!

Steve Weiss
Guest
Steve Weiss
16 years 6 months ago

Ahhh, the holiday season…with the smell of chestnuts and the shrill cries of advocacy groups in the air. But look…the sleigh was made in China! I wonder how the Chinese celebrate Christmas…

George Anderson
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

Last year, RetailWire asked members the following question in a poll: Should retailers using more general terms put Christmas back in their promotions and signage? Sixty percent answered yes.

Check out RW 12/23/04, Retailers Told to Put Christ in Christmas for more perspective on the “Christmas” issue.

Mark Burr
Guest
16 years 6 months ago

Doc has it about right. Taking a stand for your Christian beliefs has always been difficult. It seems even more so today that it’s an easy hit to attempt to limit or disparage those who believe. Ironically, it was the exact type of persecution that ended the life of the birth that we as Christians celebrate.

What is it that causes fear here? What is it that seems so scary to recognize the greatest gift of love in the history of mankind? What is it in the saying of ‘Peace on earth and goodwill towards men’ that seems to generate such ill will?

Merry Christmas!

Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
16 years 6 months ago

Marshall Field’s Christmas, I mean holiday, catalogue this year takes the prize. Inside is the boast that “nobody does holiday like Marshall Field’s.” What holiday are they speaking of (Labor Day?) is a mystery, and the fact that this is grammatical nonsense makes it all the funnier, and sadder.

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