This article is more than 1 year old

On the true meaning of Holidays™ Inc.

Mind your language

Seasonal Letters Last week we brought you the story of how a Wal-Mart employee gave a heroically inappropriate technical answer to a question from a customer concerned that the company had replaced "Christmas" with "Holidays" in some of its promotional material

Wal-Mart is the United States biggest retailer, and under fire from both church and secular groups for its socially destructive employment practices.

The email prompted threats of a boycott from a group which claims to represent Catholics. Wal-Mart caved in, and sacrificed the employee. The secular left swung into battle, responding that it was an urgent duty to end poverty and provide the poor with medical insurance ensure the word Holidays was respected.

It's apparent that to be represented here, you must be represented by your lunatic fringe.

Your emails show how much you enjoyed this tale, but first, a picture treat.

It was news to us that in the United States you can buy a commercially themed Christmas Tree Holiday Season Decoration, and even more of a surprise that you can buy it in a Las Vegas theme.

And here it is.

A Las Vegas themed Holiday Decoration: click to enlarge

And here you are.

So what was it that Bing Crosby was dreaming of, then - a white "holiday" ?

Mike Whittaker

You wrote:

"We just need to loosen a few sphincters"

The last thing we need is more American shit dumping on the world.

Dave Bell

Apparently, Havant Council decided that they weren't going to switch on the Christmas Lights next week, they were going to have a "Festival of Light" instead. Such a shame that there really IS such a festival, it's Hindu, and it happened last month (if I've got my dates right).

Oh yes - the Hindus were up in arms about the "Christmas Lights" being cancelled, too.

Anthony Youngman

The fireworks were to celebrate Diwali (a Hindu festival.) Eid involves less glamorous activities - like feasting and visiting the graves of loved ones - to celebrate the end of Ramadan (a month of fasting, abstinence and general reflection carried out during the hours of daylight.)

As a Muslim I'm used to Islam being confused with all kinds of things. Quite nice on this occasion, however, for it to be something fun rather than the usual fun-damental howlers like arranged marriages, honour killings, suicide bombings, subjugation of women, etc, etc...

Happy Holidays to you!


I have to admit that after several recent visits to the USA it is getting to be a paranoid place, expecially in the cities. Everyone seems to be scared to interact with anyone else for fear of upsetting them.

During my last visit a friend and I indulged in one of our banter-battles in the Outback Restaurant in San Jose. He refered to me as a lardarse (note spelling ;-), I called him a fat slob - we are both well over 300lbs - then we ordered an Awesome Blossom each. :-)

The people in the next booth were horrified and seemed convinced that we were about to start shooting each other. They spent the entire meal looking over their shoulders at us.

You have too many people trying to protect others from everything including themselves. You need to tell these "protectors" to butt out.

Dave Bell

"The United States takes the separation of church and state [...] with a scary earnestness."

Hence, presumably, the presence of "IN GOD WE TRUST" on the currency and the phrase "One Nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

But then, no-one ever accused the US of being morally consistent.

Jon Green

The Holidays Season™ is madness, but I guess it's just an extension of the Joe Public American's lack of awareness of history.

I do have to say though, it does still bring a huge smile to me when the most Christian nation on the planet goes completely all-out to celebrate the Pagan festival of Halloween.

But shh, don't tell the bible belt...


"The United States takes the separation of church and state...although it's nominally a Christian country"

Where does this keep coming from? This argument has been used to justify everything from slavery to invading foreign countries. The upshot is that it is entirely false; This country is in no way, shape, form, or function (well, maybe function) a christian country, and I defy you to prove otherwise. The only legitimate argument for this is the fact that, as our esteemed criminals- er, I mean republicans- would have it, Benjamin Franklin once suggested opening the meetings of the constitutional congress with a prayer. They keep leaving out the fact that the suggestion was soundly rejected, never even came to a vote, and the only comment in the record was George Washington's: "No, this is a job for men." When they stop lying, I'll stop nit-picking.

"'Christmas is actually a continuation of the Siberian shaman and Visigoth traditions,' Kirby replied."

I guarantee that "Kirby" knew that she would get fired for giving this response. In fact, I would wager that she was counting on it.

The only people in this country who would raise a ruckus over changing "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" are going to be hard-core, snake-handling wackos, and telling these people that their celebration of their mythological deity's birth is actually taken from pagan religions is a sure-fire way to cause apoplexy, only exceeded by telling them that their religion evolved from Judaism or selling beer on sunday.

Also, Kirby was wrong; Christmas actually evolved from the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which in turn came from an ancient Mithran holiday celebrating his birth.

"We just need to loosen a few sphincters, but the USA is a tense place these days."

You ain't just whistling dixie.

Ethan Hays

How correct you are about the weird traditions here - makes me want to celebrate Christmas in London. Please understand that as an American I am not one of them - I do not say Happy Holidays to people I meet - I find out what they celebrate at this time of the year and wish them a fun whatever and wish them peace for the next year.

Peter Cook

It wasn't "the Catholics" who "came to the rescue" in this whole fiasco, it was a self-appointed "Catholic civil rights organization" consisting of a bunch of (ultra) conservatives who called for the boycott. These people have no official standing within the Church and do not speak for the Church - only for themselves. Any official statement from "the Catholics" would have to come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (or directly from the Vatican) which simply didn't happen.

Which is not to say that there aren't a number of reasons why Catholics might wish to consider avoiding shopping at Wal-Mart - their treatment of their own employees and their exploitation of workers at suppliers in China and elsewhere hardly hold up well to the social doctrine taught by the Catholic Church, for example - but using the term, "Holidays" instead of the term "Christmas" sure isn't one of them!

Bill Meahan

Doesn't Wal-Mart subscribe to Jimmy Swaggart's particular brand of Klan-approved religion? Catholics used to be right up their with "colored" people on the cross burning list as I recollect.

Pretty much everything Kirby said is factual and should not have been cause for her termination. I hope she will retain a lawyer and sue the "titsoff" Wal-Fart for wrongful termination and religious persecution.

Some of your readers might want to "have their say" especially the Wiccan and Druid contingent. Here's the "Feedback" link at Walmart's website. Give'm hell!

Dan Paul

The United States is not nominally a Christian country. It has not been so named, which is needed for the word "nominally" to apply.

For contrast, I believe that Queen Elizabeth II is nominally the head of both the UK state and the UK state religion. On the other hand, perhaps she's *literally* the head of both.

I think you may have meant something closer to "the United States is populated mostly with nominal Christians." "Nominal" applies in this case because the persons in question identify themselves as Christians, even though they often reject the ethics taught by Christ. But boy, do they ever throw a hissy fit when they feel their dominance over non-Christians is threatened...


Your "christmas letter" article was interesting, but I think you've been listening to some very vocal voices too much. They may be passionate, but they're also misinformed.

The US is _not_ a nominally Christian nation. The framers of the Constitution debated inclusion of religious references to a "creator" and the like, but they decided against it. They also explicitly prohibited any religious test for public office. This was undoubtably a response to the UK requiring (or having required?) membership in the Church of England for the same.

Anyway, I highly recommend this article at Daily Kos for a historical perspective.

On the second point, the Bill of Rights only applies to the government. The Christmas we know today is a Victorian invention, it was not a federal holiday until 1870. (See this for more interesting facts.) That's nearly a century after the adoption of the US Constitution, I find it hard to believe that the framers cared about a then-minor Christian holiday. (They didn't have Thanksgiving either. :-)

On the other hand stores can do whatever they want, modulo civil rights laws (e.g., refusing to sell to Jews solely because they're non-Christian). If they want to insist it's Christmas and nothing but Christmas, it's their right. Calling it "Happy Holidays" (to include Hanukkah -- few people know or care about the winter solstice) is a marketing decision to avoid alienating patrons who would otherwise go elsewhere.

BTW, don't jump too quickly to the assumption that all non-Christians want "Happy Holidays". I don't know how widespread the sentiment is, but some Jews are concerned that well-meaning Christians are blowing Hanukkah out of all proportion just because it happens to fall near Christmas. I haven't noticed an effort to recognize Yom Kippur in government or civil life.

Full disclosure: I was raised as a Protestant but now self-identify as a Buddhist. I have nothing against Christmas per se, and ironically agree with the Christians who feel that the commercial juggernaut has completely overwhelmed the religious celebration. Where we disagree is the belief that Christmas _alone_ should be recognized.

Total aside: last year the television section of the local newspaper referred to the "unusually secular" Charlie Brown special. My friends and I were boggled by this - we couldn't think of any other Christmas special that explicitly read from the Gospel. There's only one non-Biblical reference, and the Christmas tree has been a Christmas symbol for centuries and found in every Christian church in this country. That shows just how deep the disconnect has become - Santa Claus and Rudolph - the latter originally a marketing ploy to drive patrons to Montgomery Wards (iirc) have the "Christmas Spirit", but the Gospel story does not.


Bear Giles

So long as they call the Christmas Season "The holidays", somehow that makes having presidential candidates hand-picked by religious fundamentalists is still ok. Interestingly, the UK which requires a religious assembly at least once a week in schools and a permanent head of state who is also the head of the church seems to produce the most reliable source of atheists in the world! I'll take the results over the packaging any day!

Mike Birch

Andrew, cracking article. Made me smile.

However, we all need to get away on time on a Friday. So in future we would be most pleased if you could reduce the word count a tad.

Suggested revised text for your article:

"(Most) Americans are so far up their own arse you can't see their feet


Many thanks

Andy Harrison

And finally, we ought to be careful not just about the "Holidays", but about the "Happy" too. That's going to offend someone...

As the word 'Happy' may be offensive for depressed Goths and what not, I conclude by wishing you a politically correct "So-so Holiday".

Or should that be a "So-so Period at the End of the Year, at least according to the Gregorian Calendar"?

Trond Roaas

What can we say?

Hmmph, Hmmph. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like