Macy's II

Macys_3As we were hoping earlier, Religion News Service has deigned to cover the efforts of the Committee to Save Merry Christmas.

The group’s founder, Manuel Zamorano, insists that he doesn’t have “any desire to hurt anybody’s bonuses, anybody’s income, anybody’s Christmas. But I don’t want these retailers to simply use us and sell to us at Christmas and never actually say ‘Merry Christmas.’”

To that end, he urges that people boycott all Federated Department Stores, including Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, until they incorporate the phrase “Merry Christmas” into their advertising.

A spokeswoman for the chain, who may get a lump of coal this year, shrugged off calls for customers to refuse to shop at the stores: “People are always boycotting. It’s sort of like get in line and take a number.”

RNS reports that the chain has no “formal policy” on “Merry Christmas” and that it encourages “clerks to be inclusive of all shoppers.” Translation: Though the advertising will be as secular as Santa, clerks will not be disciplined for saying Merry Christmas to shoppers, unless, you know, someone takes offense.

But reporter Kevin Eckstrom finds the protesters much more interesting than the protest. He explains,

While Zamorano’s boycott has yet to pick up any real steam, his campaign reflects a growing resentment among many Christians that creeping secularism now has its sights set on Christmas. It’s part of the annual “December dilemma” for people who say the birth of Jesus Christ is increasingly overshadowed by excessive commercialism.

Frustrated over nativity scenes that are unwelcome in public squares, Salvation Army kettles that have been banned from Target stores and school “holiday” plays that feature Hanukkah songs but no “Away in a Manger,” they’ve had enough. And Macy’s will be the first to pay.

But the story ultimately comes down on the side of the take-Christ-out-of-Christmas crowd:

“I don’t know if it ever had an extremely strong religious component in America,” said Karal Ann Marling, a University of Minnesota art historian whose book, “Merry Christmas!” chronicled the evolution of Christmas. It has always been “more secular than sacred,” she said.

In early America, religious celebrations of Christmas were shunned by many Puritan-minded Protestants, and Dec. 25 was a relatively quiet feast day for liturgical Catholics and Anglicans. It wasn’t until about 1850 that trees and gifts entered the scene, and merchants really caught on by the 1880s, around the time Macy’s unveiled its landmark storefront windows brimming with holiday goods.

Leigh Schmidt, a professor of religion at Princeton University, said there have always been “mixed motives” for celebrating Christmas, from families who celebrate its sacred roots to retailers mindful of their bottom line.

“They’re all overlapping,” he said. “The churches get more into it, the family customs become more involved, the stores start to get into it. It all goes together, it all overlaps.”

Bah humbug, says Zamorano, who insists he will not budge.

Print Friendly

  • Hisownfool

    Zamorano can remain planted on his own patch of the Prairie of Prax all he wants but the fact remains that Schmidt is right: Christmas, as Americans celebrate it, has never been an exclusively or even primarily religious holiday. It has belonged, at least among Protestants, more to the civic religious realm. (Thus, my Muslim hair cutter can tell me that her son wants the family to put up a Christmas tree without a hint of irony.) It had at least as much to do with commercial interests and the Victorian sentimentalization of children as with the worship of the Second Person of the Ever-Blessed Trinity. (Ask your typical American Christian to tell you everything he or she knows about the Incarnation. Five seconds later, ask the next one you come across.)

    Truth be told, many of the “traditions” and “customs” that culture warriors fret over are social arrangments of relatively recent vintage — some dating all the way back to the 1950s. Whoo! Seriously, while that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be preserved or at least respected, calling their jettisoning a “betrayal” or evidence of cultural collapse is a bit overstated.

  • Joel

    Let me see if I understand. Christmas was originally a low-key religious holiday until the mid-19th century, at which time its commercial aspects ballooned. So the logical way to celebrate it is to eliminate the religious focus and make it strictly commercial. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

  • tmatt


    I am working on a column on the 12 days tradition even as we e-speak.

    This is very complex. But part of the story is that Protestants helped kill the actual Christmas traditions, especially in England. This is crucial to America, a largely Protestant and commercial culture.

    The bottom line: An Advent-Christmas-12 Days sequence never really REACHED America, except in Latino traditions — which have largely been killed by Interstate highways and television (said the professor in South Florida).


    There is great irony in suburban Protestants fighting for the real Christmas. I think we simply have to say that this is a free-speech debate and leave it at that.

  • Hisownfool

    I don’t think anyone is seriously advocating “eliminating the religious focus.” I think that Schmidt is trying to put current trends into historical perspective: the widespread *public* celebration of Christmas, as distinct from the religious observance of the Feast of the Nativity, didn’t take off until it acquired commercial and non-religious, or at least nonsectarian, associations. (Recall that many Protestant churches didn’t even observe the holiday until after Dickens, Wannamaker and company had already reinvented the holiday for the general public.)

    If this is true — and I think that it is for the most part — then what we see in the marketplace isn’t so much a betrayal of the true meaning of Christmas as the logical culmination of ideas that were present in the public observance of Christmas (in the USA) from the start.

    Insisting that people drop the “Happy Holidays” crap for something more substantive is fine by me. (I make it a point to say “Merry Christmas.”) But we should also understand where the problem originated.

  • Bob Smietana

    The Massachusetts Bay Colony tried to ban Christmas on religious grounds in 1659, as did the Puritans in England in 1643. Both bans failed. As Terry notes, this is a complex story, with lost of irony.

    BTW: I like this blast from the Massashusetts past:

    “it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

    From the records of the General Court,

    Massachusetts Bay Colony

    May 11, 1659

  • SouthCoast

    Just out of curiosity, are any of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s decrees still enforceable? And how much are 5 17th century shillings worth today?

  • Silow-Carroll

    I think this is a phony issue. The RNS story, like so much of the reporting on this story, is a parody of trend-spotting articles. “[A] growing resentment among many Christians.” Growth measured how? “They’ve had enough.” Who is this “they,” besides a few columnists, Bill O’Reilly, a one-man outfit like the “Committee to Save Merry Christmas,” and the media echo chamber? Have the courts, the ACLU, and/or religious defense groups recorded an uptick in the number of institutions seeking to “secularize” Christmas, or challenging such attempts? Was there a major court case this year that moved the issue in one way or another? If there is any trend here at all, it one among Christian activists on the right, and their right-wing allies from O’Reilly to Krauthamer, who have hit upon a media-friendly issue to further drive a wedge between the red and blue. Frank Rich nails it in his Dec. 19 column — a pretense by members of a triumphant majority that they under siege by a marginalized minority.

  • Will

    Meanwhile, we are simultaneously instructed that evergreens, men in red suits and even candy canes are a) Christian symbols which are imposed on minorities by those reprehensible Christians b) pagan symbols which have been “stolen” by those reprehensible Christians. I guess Silow wants to tell me I am imaging it, just as I imagined being beaten up by “anti-war protesters”.

    I wish that my Jewish “relatives” and my neo-pagan “friends” would fight it out among themselves and let us know who won, so we could at least settle WHAT we are supposed to feel guilty about.

  • Patrick Tolve

    The majority of Americans are Christians–And of course the majority of shoppers during the Christmas season are Christians–for you-Macy’s–to eliminate any referece to Christmas is insulting–I know for sure–my family and my extended family (50+ people) will boycott your store until you restore Christmas to your store, and I’m going to make every effort to get other Christians to follow in this effort! We are not insulted by Happy Chanukah, or any other religious

    greeting. You cannot deny that the reason that billions of dollars of sales are made throughout the country are because of CHRISTMAS.

    Peace and Love

    Patrick Tolve