Merry Christmas

December 1, 2010

By Louis Avallone

Good Grief, Charlie Brown

In December 1965, nearly 15 million viewers, or one-half of the television viewing audience, tuned in to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. It has become the longest-running cartoon special in history, but it almost was cancelled before it ever was aired. You see, the CBS network executives were less than impressed. Aside from the technical criticisms, resulting from a rushed production schedule, the executives did not want Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It was thought that viewers would not want to be preached upon by an animated cartoon, especially from Biblical passages. Obviously, after almost 45 years of airing every Christmas, receiving an Emmy and a Peabody award, those CBS executives got it wrong.

“There will always be an audience for innocence in this country,” said Charlie Brown’s creator, Charles Schulz. Nonetheless, the religious celebration of Christmas continues to face trivialization. Last year at this time, even the White House was not planning to display the Nativity scene, which has been a longtime East Room tradition. Instead, according to the White House’s former social secretary Desiree Rogers, the “Obamas were planning a nonreligious Christmas.” Great. Whatever that means.

The commercialization of Christmas, however, continues to increase in prominence, not to mention that the “shopping season” begins earlier and earlier every year. Actually, the commercialization began as early as 1851. But it was FDR, in 1939, who may have inadvertently most influenced our modern day, obsessive and compulsive preoccupation with spending at Christmas; he moved the date of Thanksgiving back to the third Thursday of November to expand the Christmas shopping season. And today, Americans spend over $450 billion annually on Christmas.

But it was the character of Linus, in A Charlie Brown Christmas, that may have been the first television appearance bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas and the 1960s-style “modern” aluminum Christmas trees. And speaking of trees, did you know that the commonly known “Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree” was officially named “The Tree at Rockefeller Center” last year? Seriously. But the times must be changing. This year, it is, once again, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.”

In fact, it seems that “Christmas” may be mounting a comeback.

Last Christmas marked a dramatic return for retailers who put “Christ” back into “Christmas,” after an experimental hiatus where retailers instead emphasized “Happy This” or “Happy That,” instead of simply, “Merry Christmas.”

The percentage of retailers recognizing Christmas in their advertising has risen from 20% to 80% in recent years. What a remarkable turnaround! In years past, retailers, such as Lowe’s, were like Santa following behind his reindeer with a pooper-scooper: They were scrambling to clean up their own seasonal mess.

For example, in Lowe’s Holiday 2007 catalog, the pages were adorned with beautifully decorated Christmas trees. However, Lowe’s decided to advertise these as “Family Trees.” According to the American Family Association, “Lowe’s evidently did not want to offend any non-Christians, therefore they replaced “Christmas Tree” with “Family Tree.” Lowe’s quickly responded the following year with an apology saying that it was merely a proofreading error and, according to their spokesman, they are redoubling their efforts “to proofread those catalogs in the future.”

There’s a lot of “proofreading” going on it seems nowadays. In 2008, The Home Depot notified the American Family Association that Christmas would also be returning to their promotional advertising, in store banners and displays, and just last year The Gap did the same.

Compare that to the folks at Barnes & Noble, CVS Pharmacy, Radio Shack, and Victoria’s Secret. These companies simply refer to Christmas, if at all, as nothing more than a tradition. According to the National Retailers Federation, 91% of consumers plan to celebrate Christmas, compared with 5% for Hanukkah and 2% for Kwanzaa. And according to the polling firm Zogby, 95% of Americans are NOT offended when they hear “Merry Christmas,” but almost half (46%) are “bothered” by the greeting “Happy Holidays.”

There are a lot of folks who are fed up with the crowd who repeatedly use politically correct “white out” to edit the “Christ” out of “Christmas.” In fact, for several years now, the American Family Association (http://action.afa.net/) has maintained a “Naughty & Nice List” for consumers. According to the group’s founder, “Retailers which seek to profit from Christmas while pretending it does not exist should realize they have offended the vast majority of Americans who enjoy Christmas.”

I guess these retailers expect you to leave the “Christ” part in the parking lot. And no, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all is good with the world just because a store says “Merry Christmas,” instead of “Happy This” or Happy That.” The true Christmas spirit still comes from within.

Charles Schulz was right, though, “There will always be an audience for innocence in this country.” And that’s just what we could use more of, isn’t it? Merry Christmas.

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