The “War on Christmas” from a retailer’s point of view

(The following is a guest post from reader J Howard Boyd.)

As we enter the holiday shopping season, I would like to call out a few points about the whole “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” debate.

This is an extremely stressful season for those of us who make our living in the retail marketplace. Most of us rely on sales from this season to make up for the poorer sales that occur throughout the rest of the year. Many of my customers this season I see throughout the year, but the vast majority will be people I see only once a year, if that.

My biggest pleasure in serving you this season will be to help you find just the right gift for that special someone on your list. In order to do that, I will have to learn some things from you about the intended recipient. I will ask about their likes and dislikes, but I probably won’t ask about their religion, and I certainly won’t be asking you about yours. It’s just not relevant to the task at hand (and there are a lot of other people whom I also need to help!)

At the end of our time together, hopefully I will be tallying up your purchase. As we both are aware, this is a season of giving as well as shopping, so I may take the opportunity to wish you well as you go on your way. If  you made it clear to me in our conversation that you are a Christian, I will probably wish you a Merry Christmas. If you have indicated you are Jewish, I may say Happy Chanukah. If you have shared that you are a Pagan, I will wish you Good Yule, or Happy Solstice. If you haven’t shared your religious beliefs with me, I will most likely say Happy Holidays. This is not because I “hate” Christmas or Christians; it is merely because I don’t know what you might be celebrating this season.

There is also a very strong possibility that I will wish you a Merry Christmas, anyway, since I am a Christian, and it is my cultural fall-back phrase. Again, it wouldn’t be said as any sort of challenge to you; I wouldn’t be trying to force you into my beliefs. I would say it only because we have shared a (hopefully) pleasurable experience together, and I want to wish you well, one person to another.

In any case, I would hope that, as a member of this pluralistic society, you can recognize when a fellow human being is simply wishing you well, and accept that wish in the spirit in which it’s given—as opposed to responding with, say, a lecture about political correctness, or about freedom of/from religion, etc.

One last point: In my opinion, the real War on Christmas is waged by the incessant marketing and commercialization of the holiday. If I had my way, we in the retail world would completely sever all marketing from Christmas / Chanukah / Solstice / Kwanzaa or other holidays, and just refer to it as the Winter Gifting Season. That way, as a Christian, I might feel like I am allowed to celebrate my holiday from Dec 25 through Jan 6, as it should be, rather than being forced to celebrate it from Thanksgiving through Dec 25, and then shut the door on it.

J Howard Boyd manages an independent bookstore in Seattle WA. He is a Christian married to a Pagan. So far, nothing in their house has burned but the occasional pie.


  • StephenD

    As an addendum, I’d like to say that if everyone just respected everyone else, there wouldn’t be a problem. If I want to say “Merry Christmas”, its an expression of where I’M coming from, not an effort to proselytize anyone. If you want me to respect your right to not celebrate Christmas, then you had better respect MY right to do so. End of story.

    • boomergran

      Respect is earned. If your attitude is as you seem to state, then there is really nothing to “respect” about your right to celebrate Christmas.

      The word you seem to be looking for is “defer,” which is a synonym for respect, or “humble submission.” As a lifelong Christian, demands such as yours are exactly why, when I identify myself as such, I feel compelled to add, “But I’m not one of THOSE kinds of Christians.”

      • Dusti McLain

        thank you, Gran, for summing up what I’ve been thinking!

    • klhayes

      It’s not about saying Merry Christmas, it is about the attempt of one group to force people who simply want to sell us stuff to give the mindless consumption religious meaning.

      • Geraldine McBarker

        no, it’s not. It’s people doing what they’ve done since childhood. Voicing goodwill.

        • Oswald Carnes

          People pissed their pants in childhood. Is it okay if they keep doing that too?

          • Glenn Kennedy

            Hmm. Do you REALLY think that’s a reasonable. comparable analogy? I mean, really?

          • Oswald Carnes


          • Glenn Kennedy

            Wow. Can’t see the fundamental, self-evident difference at all, then?

          • Oswald Carnes

            Mostly, it’s just that I don’t give a rat’s ass if you live or die. Now imagine how much I care about what you think.

          • Glenn Kennedy

            Enough to bother typing that inane comment, obviously.

          • John Shore

            Thanks for stopping by the blog and letting us all benefit from your kind thoughtfulness, Oswald.

        • Miserys_Fence

          By wishing me a Merry Christmas when you have no idea whether or not I’m a Christian, you’re basically saying “I don’t give a flying rat’s patootie if you really enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate. The important thing here is for me to show off how pious I am!”

    • Amadi

      When you say “Merry Christmas” to someone who doesn’t celebrate it, you’re not respecting them, you’re mouthing platitudes. Respecting people means respecting who they are, not just foisting yourself and where you’re “coming from” at them.

      • Geraldine McBarker

        And how do you know – when they bristle up and get offended? Respect goes both ways.

  • buricco

    I think it would be better to take the Christ OUT of Christmas – quit associating his name with this commercial festival of hype that runs counter to everything he ever stood for.

  • boomergran

    Yes, J. Howard Boyle stated it very clearly and succinctly. But the very first comment put it all right back into the “MY rights” argument. No amount of logic, well-meaning, or clarity can penetrate some people’s tightly-wrapped cloaks of self-righteousness, I’m afraid.

  • klhayes

    Excellent! I am with you on all points, particularly the last paragraph. Tying a religious holiday to a time when people are fighting over the last iPhone and trampling people to death to get that big screen TV just seems wrong.

    • John Masters

      And yet, the religious right goes out of its way to try to enforce the very tying of retailing with Christmas. Absolutely astonishing. I am 54 years old. I was raised a Christian, and have been a practicing Christian all my life. This year, I am closer than I have ever been to not only walking away from my lifelong membership in the Methodist Church, to abandoning any association with Christianity writ large…or at least, organized religion.

  • Dusti McLain

    Perfect! I’ve been saying this for a while now just not as succinctly. I really appreciate how he points out where the real War on Christmas is.

  • Geraldine McBarker

    There you go! Wonderful Winter, everyone!

  • Pauline MacDonald

    Nails it. 100%

  • Trip Affleck

    this is completely backwards and typical of those who fall for the bogus “war on christmas” hysterics from Fox News; it is NOT the secularists or those of other religions who get offended and indignant over being greeted with ‘merry christmas’, i’m completely non-religious and have used ‘merry christmas’ my entire life, it’s the christians that go mental when you say ‘happy holidays’! THEY are the ones who freaked out when using ‘happy holidays’ as a more inclusive greeting became widespread. THEY got offended and indignant and declared a phony ‘war on christmas’. THEY are the ones trying to stamp out every other greeting than ‘merry christmas’.
    and it’s funny that he takes great pains to explain why his christian greeting should be accepted at face value as simply well-wishing, but says not one word about his willingness to accept a non-christian greeting.

  • dp2014

    Noticed you named this, “War on Christmas” not “War on Hanukkah” or “War on Kwanza”. Your title was right. It IS a war on Christmas and all Christians. You can be anything weird in this country and we will hold out open arms and pet your little head. If you happen to be anything close to a Christian or WASP, God help you, because your life is about to become a hell. Personally, this year I’m focusing on shopping at retailers that support my belief system. All other retailers, my money does not go to you. I get to choose where I spend it, and I prefer to spend it at Hobby Lobby instead of Michaels, at Chik-fil-a instead of McDonalds, Forever 21 instead of Claire’s. I even buy Tyson chicken instead of Claxton chicken.

    • Oswald Carnes

      May all your fears come true.

    • Tom Weaver

      the phrase “Happy Holidays” has been a part of American culture for a century or more, well before we stopped assuming all Americans are Christian.

      But you’re certainly right – we Americans are so crass nowadays as to respect what others believe, instead of, I guess, belittling folks as you do in your post.

      Whinging from Christian faux-martyrs like you makes me sad, as though being polite to others is somehow a direct assault on your own beliefs. You have no clue what actual religious oppression is. Try spending time (and money) on societies like the Voice of the Martyrs ( to see actual Christian oppression.

    • John Shore

      The love of Christ simply radiates off you. It’s dazzling.

    • Fr. Greg Cundiff

      The only war on Christmas is being waged by right wingers with an axe to grind. With all respect to the bookseller who wrote the article, this whole shopping mall Christmas is rather beside the point. If you want to celebrate and follow Jesus, sell all your things and follow him.

  • J Howard Boyd

    My original essay was entitled An Open Letter to Both Sides of the “War on Christmas”. If you think I have taken sides, please read it again. I have taken as much heat from non-Christians as from Christians over this silly non-issue. As a retailer, I just wanted to share my perspective. Thanks for all the comments.

    • John Shore

      Someone changed the title of your essay? What loser would DO something like that?? Boy. Some people.