- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

If you’re wondering what tops Santa’s list this year, try job security. Despite the “clause” in his contract, St. Nick could fall victim to Corporate America’s newest Ebenezer: holiday pluralism. And what’s worse, with Christ on the outs and “X-Mas” on thin ice, charities may suffer their worse yuletide to date. This year, the war for goodwill has enlisted new troops: the Salvation Army and Religious Right.

In the bulls-eye of this holiday controversy (which is as old as the season itself) is Target Corporation, one of the country’s largest retailers. Religious activists are up in arms about the company’s decision to ban the Salvation Army from soliciting on its premises. The charity was ordered to stop ringing its bells at collection kettles, citing, “an increasing number of inquiries from nonprofit organizations … to open its doors to other groups that wish to solicit.”

Some act surprised that the stores are more concerned about their bottom dollar than underprivileged families. But let’s face it — corporate America will dump competition faster than you can say “figgy pudding.” To them, there’s no business like snow business. And according to reports, it’s a booming one for the industry, which stands to make 20 percent of its revenue in November and December.

Believe it or not, one spokesperson justified the decision by saying that the noise of the bells “is a bit too nerve-racking for the people [working].” But if the sound was truly their motivating factor, then the solution is easy — lose the chime and keep the change. Instead, it’s just another day in the commercialization of Christmas — with the retail pot is calling the Army kettle black.

But before you put Target on your naughty list, it should be noted that the retail giant has tried to make amends for giving the Salvation Army the silent treatment, though precious little has been written about their new partnership. And with good reason). According to their recent announcement, “From Nov. 25, 2005 through Jan. 25, 2006, visitors to Target’s Web site can view and purchase clothing, household items, personal products, and Gift Cards to be donated to [hurricane victims] across the country. The Salvation Army will distribute the purchases… .”

In other words, Target’s latest “charitable” effort still stands to make a sizeable profit — and on the less fortunate to boot. The company, in all of its benevolence, didn’t offer to donate the merchandise but would be more than willing to take the money of those who would. Obviously the “ring” of the bells is more disturbing than the “cha-ching” they’ve come to expect from consumers.

As for the claim that stores like Target, Sears, Home Depot, Costco and K-Mart are bah-humbugging “Merry Christmas” in favor of “Happy Holidays,” most chains insist that they have no policy against the greeting. Still, chalk it up to another victory for Generation Generic, whose list of politically correct victories is as compelling as their paranoia. Rather than accommodate all religions, these so-called pluralists have marginalized America’s largest. Businesses everywhere are sending the message that when it comes to tolerance, 86 percent of the population need not apply.

Proponents of the move suggest that the store’s decision has less to do with the bottom line and more to do with drawing it against church and state. But does protecting the feelings of a few customers at the expense of the majority really serve anyone’s best interests? All we want for Christmas is consistency.

Even the Jewish community — a demographic that retailers insist this measure “protects” — has chimed in to say that this annual debate does a disservice to 2,000 years of Christian tradition. Don Feder, president of the Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, said that major chains ought to be more accommodating to a season that accounts for one-fifth of their earnings. Yet away goes the manger, gone are the carols, and all those wise men? Well, after this debacle, we’re still looking.

To be fair, Christmas had been hijacked by plastic reindeer and eggnog lattes long before this latest transgression. For decades people have mistakenly believed that the gospel of pluralism will make up for a lack of true belief, that inclusivity will balance the moral ledger.

That’s the snag in chasing parity. Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan — they’re all legitimate holidays, but that legitimacy is derived from the history and tradition of their faith — not by a group of hypersensitive CEOs. Who says the grinches on Wall Street have cornered the market on holiday meaning? Maybe the real problem is that we are looking for validity in all the wrong places. Christmas isn’t theirs to take — it’s ours to lose.

And perhaps the biggest rival for faith isn’t Target after all, but the reason we go there in the first place. Is there too much rum in the wassail or have we forgotten that it’s our fascination with the latest electronic gadget and newest fad toy that the stores are catering to? The gifts on their shelves compete more with Christmas than religious diversity ever will.

So when it comes to defining the season, ask not for whom the bell tolls … it tolls for thee.

Suzanne Bowdey is the projects director at the American Conservative Union.

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