The American Family Association’s annual Naughty Or Nice list of companies is out. And as always, the annual renewal of War on Christmas panic is an opportunity to revisit how quick conservative organizations are to sell out their own purported values when the opportunity arises for them to get some publicity by doing so.
First, the measure of whether a company is pro-Christmas is hilariously divorced from any theoretical Christian values or expression of the Christmas spirit, and determined solely by marketing. “BLUE: An AFA ‘5-Star’ rated company that promotes and celebrates Christmas on an exceptional basis,” the list’s key explains. “GREEN: Company uses the term “Christmas” on a regular basis, we consider that company Christmas-friendly. YELLOW: Company refers to Christmas infrequently, or in a single advertising medium, but not in others. RED: Company may use “Christmas” sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it.”
The only stated value, in other words, is how much retailers talk about Christmas. By this metric, a porn company, or one that kills Bengladeshi child laborers it’s stolen from their families as part of its production process, could issue a statement declaring its belief that Christmas is the most important holiday of the year, slap the term “Christmas” on all of its products, and earn at least a Green rating (though in the former case, the AFA would certainly step in to intervene). The AFA is ostensibly a Christian organization, but the way it determines what counts as naughty or nice rewards effectively companies for how intensely they commercialize the birth of Christ.
That potential for hypocrisy gets even clearer when we look at the list of “Companies For ‘Christmas’” in detail. Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Kmart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, and Toys R Us all get passing grades from the American Family Association. They’re also stores that are opening at 6PM on Thanksgiving Day to jumpstart their Black Friday sales, a grotesque invasion of the commercial spirit into a day that’s supposed to be a celebration of America’s beginnings, and has historically been a nearly-universally observed holiday that gives families times together. That’s not even to mention the ongoing campaigns to win better treatment and wages for Walmart workers, an issue that an Ohio Walmart tacitly acknowledged in holding a food drive to supplement the pantries of its own needy employees.
Then, there are the companies that count as “marginal.” They include Uncommon Goods, which donates $1 per purchase through the Better To Give program to charities of consumers choices, including anti-sexual assault organization RAINN and City Harvest, which fights hunger in New York City. The company also tries to limit its catalogue distribution and use sustainable paper for those it does mail as part of forestry conservation efforts, and sells sustainable, recycled, and organic products. Apparently responsible consumerism doesn’t count for much in the AFA’s book, even though there are growing conversations about Christian imperatives to conserve.
The values I’m talking about here may be more the ones expressed in the Christianity I see practiced by my friends and relatives than the ones the American Family Association sees as important. But part of what makes me sad about the narrative of the War on Christmas is that it’s a regular blip in the news cycle that’s all about some Christians expressing anxiety that their traditions might not be treated as more important as those of other faiths, rather than about living out the ideals that those same Christians claim make Christmas so holy in the first place.
I’d respect the AFA if it actually went after companies who tried to further the secularization of a fundamentally religious holiday by using it as an occasion to encourage people to consume, and sometimes, to consume beyond their means. I’d respect the organization if it acknowledged that Christmas has become a holiday celebrated even by non-Christians, and used the rituals around it as an opportunity to encourage members to buy trees, gifts, and decorations that are sustainable, or locally made, or sourced in a way such that income goes to support desperately poor or historically disadvantaged people. Instead, the organization’s rating reveals just how divorced its own worship of Christmas is from any sort of articulatedChristian values, or any responsible values whatsoever. It’s just another marketing scheme.