The Hallmark Ornament Kerfuffle: There’s No Way to Win in the PC Wars

For years Hallmark, the Kansas City-based greeting card company, has produced a line of original Christmas ornaments.  We have many of them in our family’s collection:  ornaments which were gifts to our children, or which commemorated a birth or a move or a new job or a new pet.

But this year, Hallmark has faced widespread criticism from people across the political spectrum for its 2013 Ugly Christmas Sweater ornament.  On the ornament, the company edited the lyrics of the traditional carol “Deck the Halls” to omit the word ‘gay.’  Instead of saying

Don we now our gay apparel

the words have been changed to read

Don we now our fun apparel.

And for that little bit of license, the s**t has hit the fan.  Traditionalists want to know why they couldn’t just leave the Christmas, er, holiday carol as it was originally written.  Supporters of same-sex marriage call the change “homophobic.”

Had they used the lyrics as originally written, talking about “gay apparel,” the same two constituencies could have whined that they were supporting/not supporting homosexual rights.

The Hallmark company first issued a statement to media outlets explaining the history of the song dating back to the 1880s, a time “when ‘gay’ meant festive or merry.”  They explained in a statement,

“Today it has multiple meanings, which we thought could leave our intent open to misinterpretation. The trend of wearing festively decorated Christmas sweaters to parties is all about fun, and this ornament is intended to play into that, so the planning team decided to say what we meant: ‘fun.’ That’s the spirit we intended and the spirit in which we hope ornament buyers will take it.”

On October 31, however, the company—facing criticism on their Facebook page and elsewhere, issued another statement:

“We’ve been surprised at the wide range of reactions expressed about the change of lyrics on this ornament, and we’re sorry to have caused so much concern.   We never intend to offend or make political statements with our products and in hindsight, we realize we shouldn’t have changed the lyrics on the ornament.”

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In our cranky, pugilistic society, Hallmark really couldn’t win, except maybe by skipping over “Deck the Halls” in favor of a politically-neutral carol like “Jingle Bells” or maybe the Grinch theme.  Already, they avoided using the politically insensitive word “Christmas.”

And in 2008, the American Family Association launched a boycott against Hallmark because of its line of cards for same-sex relationships.

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I plunged headfirst the new world of the greeting card industry earlier this month, when our daughter celebrated her birthday.  Gifts, we had; but when I tried to buy an appropriate card, instead of

“Happy Birthday from Mom and Dad”

I found

“I Hope Your Birthday’s Happy” (from a single parent)

and

“You’re Just Like a Daughter to Me”  (from whom, the milkman?)

Nowhere to be found was a birthday card from plain old Mom and Dad; so I didn’t buy any at all.

Some years ago, I was producing a radio show and we did a feature interview with the publicity director for Hallmark in 1999, when the company released a new line of Suicide cards, offering condolences for people who have lost a relative to suicide.  “What?” you say….  Well, at the time the company sent me a big stack of “cards for today” from their line for new-styled families.  Included were cards that said things like

“I know we don’t always see things eye to eye….”

And

“Just because there’s someone new in our lives, hope you know that doesn’t change things between you and me.”

And

“Welcome to our family.  It’s a little crazy, but mostly happy.”

For children there were cards like,

“A great report card!”

and

“I’m glad you cleaned your room.”

The world has changed.  Perhaps you think that change isn’t for the better; but in any case, Hallmark’s corporate offices continue to reach out to address the greeting card and ornament needs of all kinds of buyers.

If you don’t like it, there’s always construction paper and Elmer’s glue.