Christmas Is Busting Out All Over Retail

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Wal-Mart. Everywhere you go, the retail giant's greeters will wish shoppers a "Merry Christmas" instead of last year's generic "Happy holidays."

The pendulum is swinging back to the less politically correct message that embraces Christianity. Macy's, the largest U.S. department store chain, will also have "Merry Christmas" signs in all departments. All its windows will display Christmas themes, and the theme in New York's Herald Square will be "Oh, Christmas Tree."

"What's next?" asked Lynn Altman, cofounder of New York brand consulting firm Viverito & Altman. "There could be some backlash [again]. It's interesting."

Wal-Mart explained its about-face this way: "We, quite frankly, have learned a lesson from last year. We're not afraid to use the term 'Merry Christmas.' We'll use it early, and we'll use it often." Wal-Mart's move comes a year after religious and other groups boycotted retailers for downplaying Christmas.



That sits well with Bob Marley, who launched the Coalition to Save Christmas in Massachusetts. "Good. I'm glad," he said on being informed of Wal-Mart's move. He said Target had called him this week to say it had hung a banner reading "Merry Christmas" over its main doors. "They're worrying," he said of the major retailers.

John Fleming, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of marketing, said the retailer, which recently lowered prices on toys and electronics, will be pitching Christmas almost as much as "value" to holiday shoppers.

Employees at Wal-Mart and at Macy's are being encouraged to consider wishing customers holiday greetings that are appropriate to their race or religion, including "Happy Kwanzaa" or "Feliz Navidad."

Altman warned it could be a polarizing practice to try to guess people's religious profiles for marketing purposes. Still, she said, "Merry Christmas" has a certain brand value. "It is reaching out to a certain consumer in a place that hits close to home."

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