- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

It’s nearly unanimous: 97 percent of Americans say they are not bothered by public references to Christmas according to a new Gallup poll released yesterday.

The practice also doesn’t offend those of other faiths — or no faith. The poll revealed that only 8 percent of non-Christians and 5 percent of those with no faith were perturbed by displays or advertisements which mention “Christmas” rather than a generic or secular equivalent.

The finding was “surprising, and perhaps counter to the inclusive rationale for saying ‘happy holidays,’” the survey stated.

The rush this season for political correctness is not sitting well among many: 62 percent of the respondents said that the nearly ubiquitous use of “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” over “merry Christmas” in public institutions or stores is “a change for the worse.”

Only 24 percent called it “a change for the better.” In addition, the majority — 56 percent — would say “merry Christmas” to someone they were meeting for the first time; 41 percent opted for “happy holidays.”

The findings are a “backlash” against current trends to emphasize generic, secular greetings, said Lydia Saad of the Gallup News Service.

Rip-snorting debates on editorial pages and the airwaves have erupted “as dueling pundits argue whether ‘happy holidays’ is simply a more inclusive approach to dealing with a multicultural public, or a deliberate slap at Christmas,” Ms. Saad noted.

“One reason for the broad acceptance of ‘merry Christmas’ is that the vast majority of Americans are Christians,” she continued, adding that current Gallup statistics reveal that 84 percent of the nation is Christian — and 95 percent of the country celebrates the holiday regardless of their faith.

A third of Americans say they are annoyed when stores trim away traditional references to Christmas in displays or ads. Almost half — 48 percent — of Republican respondents to the Gallup poll were vexed by the practice, along with 44 percent of conservatives and 42 percent of weekly churchgoers.

Among Democrats and liberals, the figures were 17 percent and 21 percent — less than those who lead less spiritual lives. A quarter of those who seldom or never attend church also took issue with a Christmas-free marketplace.

In recent weeks, the American Family Association, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and other groups have called for a boycott of major retailers who removed public references to Christmas from their displays or ads. Wal-Mart, one of the targeted companies, denies any such policy.

“There seems to be a growing misperception regarding the use of the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ at Wal-Mart,” the Arkansas-based company said in a recent statement. “Wal-Mart would like to clarify that it has no policy that prohibits an associate from wishing customers ‘Merry Christmas.’”

But there were some caveats.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said, “If ‘merry Christmas’ is the preferred greeting, that is fine and appropriate. Associates may choose to say ‘happy holidays,’ which may be more inclusive for happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa, happy Three Kings’ Day, merry Christmas and happy New Year.”

The Gallup poll of 1,013 adults was conducted Dec. 5 to 8.

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