Revisiting the “war on Christmas”

So I’ve been looking over past posts, particularly those addressing what has come to be known as the “war on Christmas“. These include the following:

It seems like it’s been “all quiet on the front” for the past few years. Particularly in the last couple of years, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken center stage. A “war on Christmas” pales in comparison to a virus spreading across the globe. Either way, “the war on Christmas” is or was quite palpably a ridiculous load of bovine excrement.

As I read back through both those posts and the above-linked Wikipedia article, it’s shocking to read some of the things that have happened. It’s nearly two decades old, but this incident is particularly egregious:

In 2005, when the city of Boston labeled their official decorated tree as a holiday tree, the Nova Scotian tree farmer who donated the tree responded that he would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a “holiday” tree.[12]

The tree farmer misses the point, and could use a remedial history lesson in the tradition of tree decoration and its origins. Before the Christians adopted tree decoration as part of their Christmas holiday, pagans decorated trees in celebration of Yule, the pagan winter solstice festival (Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide; Rätsch and Müller-Ebeling, 2006). Christmas itself was the Christian co-opting/takeover of many winter pagan festivals, most notably Saturnalia. So many Christians are vocal about “putting the Christ back in Christmas”. This is quite ironic since, centuries ago, it was the Christians who forcibly inserted their Christ and God into pagan celebrations.

It is likely that December 25 does not match up with the actual birthday of Jesus in the modern calendar. Indeed, some still celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the Julian calendar which is January 7 of the modern Gregorian calendar. Isaac Newton may well have been on to something. Newton theorized that December 25 was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice. The idea behind that would be for the Christians would “take over” the previously pagan holiday festivals.

So, since we now know the pagans both celebrated the winter solstice and decorated trees before the Christians did, it makes no sense to call out the city of Boston for daring to call it a “holiday tree”. I mean, yeah, the farmer is certainly entitled to his/her own opinion, or to express regret over donating the tree after it’s called a “holiday tree”. The reason for calling it a “holiday tree” is to include everyone who celebrates any winter holiday, whether it is Christmas, Boxing Day, Festivus, Hanukkah, Yule, Grav-mass, Kwanzaa, Yalda, Dongzhi Festival, Quaid-e-Azam’s Day, Chalica, Soyal, Pancha Ganapati, or any others of which I am not aware and have thus omitted. Calling it a “Christmas tree” or even a “Yule tree” is potentially exclusionary against those who observe other holidays.

And then there are cases where radical Christians apply their pressure to corporations, particularly retail advertisers:

  • In 2005, Walmart was criticized by the Catholic League for avoiding the word “Christmas” in any of their marketing efforts.[13] The company had downplayed the term “Christmas” in much of its advertising for several years.[79] This caused some backlash among the public, prompting some groups to pass around petitions and threaten boycotts against the company, as well as several other prominent retailers that practiced similar obscurations of the holiday.[13] In 2006, in response to the public outcry, Walmart announced that they were amending their policy and would be using “Christmas” rather than “holiday”. Among the changes, they noted that the former “Holiday Shop” would become the “Christmas Shop”, and that there would be a “countin’ down the days to Christmas” feature.[13]

The most cynical interpretation of this backlash is “Damnit, our ancestors fought long and hard to steal Christmas from the pagans, and you want them to think it’s okay to call it Yule or Saturnalia again?” This is obviously not what the Catholic League had in mind. Looking at history, though, it’s easy to see it that way. In fact, being well read on the history of winter solstice celebrations and a long-time atheist makes it hard not to see it that way.

Worse, quoting from the article referenced as #13 above (Tricia Bishop’s article from 2006):

“In the past, our ad copy used wording from vendors’ descriptions, and that tended to use the word ‘holiday,'” Walgreens spokeswoman Carol Hively said in an e-mail. “This year, to be more accurate, we describe Christmas-specific items, such as Christmas trees, with the word ‘Christmas.'”

“Christmas-specific items” as if nobody who celebrates any other winter solstice holiday would decorate a tree. I’d like to think Walgreens has come around on this; it may be time to switch preferred drugstores otherwise. Moving down the Wikipedia list:

  • In 2005, Target Corporation was criticized by the American Family Association for their decision not to use the term “Christmas” in any of their in-store, online, or print advertising.[80]

Unfortunately Target gave in back in 2005 only a couple of weeks into the holiday season. To be fair, not mentioning a specific holiday is something I would expect Target to do (more so than its chief competitor, Walmart). Even more unfortunate is that people would boycott a retailer over this. Omitting “Christmas” is, at its root, really just an attempt to be more inclusive.

Is that really what Christianity is about, hounding people/companies and making a stink if they don’t openly bow to the Christian world view, even at the potential perceived exclusion of others? I’d like to think otherwise. I realize the Catholic League and American Family Association (AFA) don’t represent the views of all Christians. (Or, in the case of the former, even all Catholics.) But it’s hard not to be judged by the company one keeps. This kind of thing is one reason I left Christianity decades ago.

And the hits just kept on coming:

  • On 11 November 2009, the AFA called for a “limited two-month boycott” of Gap, Inc. over what they claimed was the “company’s censorship of the word ‘Christmas.'”[88] In an advertising campaign launched by Gap on 12 November, the term “Christmas” was both spoken and printed on their website at least once, and a television ad entitled “Go Ho Ho” featured lyrics such as “Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go Solstice” and “whatever holiday you wanna-kah”.[89] On 17 November, AFA responded to this campaign by condemning the ads for references to the “pagan holiday” of solstice, and declined to call off the boycott.[90] On 24 November, the AFA ended the boycott, after learning from Gap’s corporate vice president of communications that the company planned to launch a new commercial with a “very strong Christmas theme”.[91]

It’s not enough that the ads basically have to be “Christmas Christmas Christmas Christmas blah blah blah Christmas Christmas” to not piss off the AFA. No, apparently, lest you risk an AFA-led boycott, you can’t even mention “the ‘pagan holiday’ of solstice”! At its root, solstice is a natural phenomenon. It only makes sense that regardless of religion or beliefs, a society of any size would organize a festival around it.

Again, the boycott was only called off after Gap, Inc. launched a new commercial that put Christmas front and center. Yes, Christmas, a winter solstice celebration timed deliberately to co-opt and overshadow pagan festivals occurring at about the same time, “stealing” them from the pagans and other non-believers.

And of course there’s the Starbucks controversy from 2015 which I’ve already written about. I wish I had known about the others sooner and/or already had my blog going back when they had happened. But the theme is the same: include everyone by not mentioning specific holidays, and sooner or later fundamentalist Christian groups will call you out on it; mention “the ‘pagan holiday’ of solstice” specifically, and you’re almost guaranteed the wrath of the AFA when they see it.

As I usually do this time of year, I wish everyone happy holidays, regardless of what holidays those might be. Even if it’s Yule a.k.a. the winter solstice.

Walmart’s taxing experience in Puerto Rico

As the New York Times recently reported, a Federal judge has ruled the tax that Puerto Rico levied on Walmart was unlawful. Walmart argued that the tax totaled more than 100 percent of its profits.

From the article:

The judge, José Antonio Fusté of the United States District Court in Puerto Rico, said in his opinion on Monday that it gave him no pleasure to throw out the tax, considering the commonwealth’s dire financial condition. But he said it was unlawful and that Puerto Rico’s crisis was not an excuse “to take revenue that it’s not entitled to, to pay for essential services.”

The new tax was more than triple the old rate, he said, “designed to capture Walmart Puerto Rico, the biggest fish in the pond.”

It also gives me no pleasure to at least partially concur Walmart’s side in this dispute. It’s unrealistic to take the entirety of a business’s profits and expect them to continue operating in your jurisdiction. Puerto Rico is kind of an unusual case: it’s a US territory, but not an actual US state, at least not yet. I don’t know if it’s accurate to say it’s somewhat like a country within a country, but that’s the best description I can come up with. (It does have its own Internet TLD of .pr if that says anything.)

I am no fan of Walmart. I don’t shop there at all, even when the alternative is doing without until another retailer opens up shortly after daybreak. To me, their reputation is a store that sells “cheap crap” and on top of this, pays their employees poverty wages that the rest of us wind up subsidizing with our taxes. As I have blogged previously, the obscene pay their CEO gets doesn’t exactly help their case in my eyes, either.

But the alternative to Walmart prevailing in this lawsuit is even worse. It would basically give Puerto Rico’s government free reign to raise taxes at will, even to the extent of taking over 100% of a company’s profits. That’s a recipe for disaster; Puerto Rico would be shooting itself in the foot by doing this.

So, I applaud the judge for ruling in Walmart’s favor. It was the only sane thing to do.

Walmart: A curse on the American dream

ABC News recently reported on an artifact of a meeting of city aldermen in Chicago. In the middle of a quest to get higher hourly wages for Walmart’s future employees, one of the aldermen, a man named Ed Smith, did the math on Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s salary, and found out that recalculated as an hourly wage and assuming a 40-hour week, it is more per hour than most rank-and-file Walmart employees make all year. That’s pretty much the definition of what I’ll refer to here as “[beep] you money.” (No, I still don’t swear in my blog posts.)

I do understand that a CEO should be compensated for his/her effort leading a company.  There comes a point, however, where a company’s performance and reputation should reflect back on the CEO. I think the alderman said it best:

“How can you go to bed at night and sleep knowing you make this kind of money and the people working for you can hardly buy a package of beans and rice?” [alderman Ed Smith] asked in an interview with

Indeed, Walmart is known for treating its employees terribly. A documentary about the retail behemoth, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (which for lack of a better abbreviation, I’ll simply refer to as “the movie” for the rest of this post), tells many stories of abuse by the company and its management. In particular at about 36:30 into the movie, a Walmart manager relates the story of another manager telling him how to cheat on payroll and deny workers of overtime. Later, at about 38:00 into the movie there’s an anonymous Walmart worker referring to only 19 hours per week, and saying “you can’t pay bills with that… it’s not right at all.”

In just about any other company, the union would be all over this and causing all kinds of hell for Walmart. However, Walmart is also known as one of the most egregious union-busting companies in the US, and its stores as crime magnets. In at least one case Walmart installed security cameras not to protect its shoppers or even for direct loss prevention, but for the surveillance of employees attempting to organize a union! At about 1:23:30 into the movie, former Walmart loss prevention manager Stan Fortune explains this as it relates to the surveillance footage related to the murder of Megan Holden.

But it gets even worse; about a minute later there’s a big long list of crimes occuring on or near Walmart property during the first half of 2005 (the year the movie was made). Of particular note are four that I noticed in the Houston area, including one in Sugar Land (a purse snatching), a suburb known for its low crime rate!

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you should; DVDs are still for sale at the movie’s website.

This response from Walmart’s public relations guy to ABC News is quite chilling:

“I don’t think Mike Duke needs, as the CEO of a Fortune 1 company, needs me to defend his compensation package,” said Walmart director of community affairs Steven Restivo, referring to Walmart’s status as the largest company on the planet.

Not surprisingly, I disagree; there’s no way even the most skilled public relations practitioners could defend with any credibility this kind of obscene salary for a company with Walmart’s track record. As a public relations consultant myself, it’s certainly not a job I could ethically accept, nor is it one I would want.

My challenge to Walmart is this: first pay the rank-and-file workers a fair, living wage, and treat them like human beings, then worry about your CEO paying up all of his yacht club memberships and keeping his entire fleet of luxury cars and private jet fueled (or whatever the hell he does with such an obscene amount of money).

Another thing Walmart needs to fix: this pattern of flatly crushing local businesses and then on the eve of tax exemption expiration, moving just outside of city limits, leaving behind an empty store building that no other retailer is large enough to fill. (Also documented in the movie.) In general, Walmart is a nightmare for many local businesses, and plans to construct a new Walmart in the Houston Heights area sparked a petition against it, spread by many people including a group called SLGT (Support Local, Grow Together). I agree in principle with the mission of SLGT and hope their effort to keep Walmart out of the Houston Heights is successful.

(Some opponents of the Heights Walmart point to another Walmart store going up at Fulton and Crosstimbers, in the shadow of the Northline shopping center. Unfortunately I didn’t hear about that one until it had already been halfway built, especially since it’s much closer to me than the Heights store would be; we don’t need that Walmart, and we we certainly don’t need two Walmart stores that close to each other.)