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Jennifer Marks

Holiday Heathens

We don't normally address cultural contretemps here, but foes of the alleged “War on Christmas” are aiming squarely at retailers and have actually forced changes at some of the major companies targeted by their campaign.

A precis is in order for those who eschew talking head cable TV shows, Fox News and political blogs of either stripe. The whole business kicked up around Thanksgiving, when some conservative groups denounced Wal-Mart and Target for using the word holiday in their marketing rather than Christmas as well as offering “holiday” merchandise such as “holiday trees” and “holiday ornaments” under the banner “holiday shop” on their Web sites.

Retailers, they argued, were waging nothing less than a War on Christmas by refusing to refer to the most corpulent selling season of the year in relation to the holiday that begat it.

Fox News, the media water-carrier for the campaign, wound up with egg on its face when the liberal/secular opponents of the opponents of the War on Christmas pointed out that Fox itself was offering an online “holiday collection” that included “holiday ornaments.” (For some reason, Fox does not sell the book authored by Fox News host John Gibson, entitled “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought,” which was published in October.)

Fox now offers a “Christmas and Chanukah Collection” on its site. Wal-Mart also added Christmas language. Recently, Sears did, too.

I'm of two minds about the whole thing. On the one hand, given the weighty issues facing the country right now, is the use of the word “holiday” really the gravest threat to our society?

On the other hand, the “put Christmas back in Christmas” crowd has a point. Holiday tree? Does anyone who puts one up in their home — fervent Christian or otherwise — really refer to it as anything other than a Christmas tree? Same goes for holiday lights, holiday ornaments and holiday lawn figures.

The irony is that, in cultural terms, the battle used to be waged against what was considered the crass commercialization of a holy day. No knocks against commercialization this time — just the terms under which it's defined.

If nothing else, that has to signal the triumph of retailism as a way of life.

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