Merry Holiday?

It’s that time of year again. Cold weather, gift shopping, twinkling lights and… “holiday” trees? What happened to Christmas trees?

At a Lowe’s store in Austin, Texas, there is a banner advertising fresh-cut “holiday trees.” This caused quite an uproar in the community, and it brings about a valid point: are we trying to be too politically correct about the holiday season?

It turns out that most studies find that people don’t mind the word “Christmas.” They simply want other holidays to be recognized also. A recent PRWeek article by Rob Webb mentioned that according to the last census, 72 percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christians. So why are people trying so hard to snuff out words that might exclude people?

The problem rests in poor communication. Most policies are well-meaning. A town near my home in Pennsylvania recently mandated that the traditional nativity scene be moved from the town square and placed in front of the church. They did this not because they did not want people to enjoy the scene, but because other groups then began petitioning the town for permits to place displays in the square. There were too many groups who wanted to be included, with not enough room for all. Therefore, better none than some. Unfortunately, due to lack of good external communication, some people saw it as an attempt to “ban Christmas.”

The Lowe’s “holiday” tree incident falls in this same category. The store was not trying to ban Christmas, but was rather trying to include others. But as Lee Odden questioned in his Media Relations Blog, “Are people really more likely to buy a tree if it is labeled ‘holiday tree’ instead of ‘Christmas tree’? While ‘holiday tree’ is certainly more inclusive, ‘Christmas tree’ follows centuries of tradition. Furthermore, does a Christmas tree cease to be a Christmas tree just because it has a different name?”

The current holiday campaign for the Gap, a international clothing manufacturer, focuses on including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and any other holiday consumers could want to celebrate. According to the Gap corporate Web site, “The campaign offers a fresh voice featuring choreographed dancers and models belting catchy holiday cheers about defying convention, and captures the essence of the Gap’s roots but also looks forward with an optimistic eye on America.” However, the commercials caused controversy because some groups felt that the ads were making fun of religion, and some groups are even planning to boycott the Gap.

The Gap practiced effective communication when dealing with this, stating that the Gap “is and has always been an inclusive, accessible brand in which everyone can participate and we embrace diversity across all of our customers, and more importantly respect their beliefs as individuals… We focus our marketing on the joys of the holiday season as a whole.” The Gap and its sister companies, Old Navy and Banana Republic, are standing by the ads.

A recent Dave Fleet blog post entitled “If I Were Santa’s Public Relations Guy” took a more lighthearted approach to the holiday. Fleet jokes that “the merchandising is pretty neat but there’s a lot more potential there” and goes on to discuss how Santa could capitalize on his abilities and improve communication. But his amusing insights could be taken seriously when viewing the holiday as a whole. Christmas is an important part of American tradition, and in order to prevent people from feeling that they need to ban it to include everyone, communication needs to improve.

So let’s stop worrying about being all-inclusive in our language. It’s okay to talk about Christmas – it’s been around for as long as public relations itself! Let’s just make sure that we’re talking about every other view, religion and holiday also. Everyone should get their little piece of the publicity, without having to worry about using the “C” word (Christmas), the “H” word (Hanukkah) or the “W” word (winter solstice). You get my point.

by Jaclyn White

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