Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 27, 2006

THEREFORE I AM: Merry Christmas and a happy blue vest

By David Spates / Chronicle columnist

It’s starting to feel like Christmas. The signs are unmistakable. The stores are packed. You can see the holiday stress inching up people’s spines. My neighbor is stringing up enough lights to put Clark Griswold to shame. I’ve already watched A Christmas Story in its entirety. Two-thirds of the TV commercials you see are pitching toys. (There are plenty of times during my day when I’d love to pitch a toy, if you know what I mean.) Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Christmas means shopping, and shopping means Wal-Mart, for better or worse. One thing you may notice at Wal-Mart this year is an abundance of name-badge-wearing folks wishing you a “merry Christmas.” Wait, wait, wait. Isn’t there something about separation of church and state? Wal-Mart is larger and more powerful than most industrialized countries. The chain is, in some ways, an Arkansas-based government. How can it endorse one particular religion?

It turns out that Wal-Mart has green-lighted its blue-vested employees, associates, assistants, helpers, colleagues, partners, subordinates (they call them one of those, I think) to once again wish their customers a “merry Christmas” instead of a generic “happy holidays” like they’ve done in the past. Apparently the world’s top retailer didn’t want to exclude anyone by using “merry Christmas,” but the folks in Bentonville have had a change of heart.

According to CNN.com, the announcement comes a year after religious groups such as The American Family Association and The Catholic League boycotted retailers including Wal-Mart last holiday season for excluding the word "Christmas" from products sold in stores.

"We, quite frankly, have learned a lesson from last year," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Linda Blakley said. "We're not afraid to use the term 'merry Christmas.' We'll use it early, and we'll use it often."

In fact, Wal-Mart employees are now free to use most any holiday-type greeting, not just “merry Christmas.” They can say “happy Hanukkah” or even “bountiful Kwanzaa.” If they throw in a “fantastic Festivus” they’ll have everyone covered.

But it’s Christmas that’s getting most of the love at Wal-Mart these days. The chain even changed the name of its seasonal decorations department from The Holiday Shop to The Christmas Shop. But that’s not all! In addition to the “merry Christmas” greetings and The Christmas Shop, you also get Christmas carols piped in over Wal-Mart’s sound system while you shop. How’s that for Christmasness? Before you answer, there’s still more! About 60 percent more merchandise at Wal-Mart is labeled as “Christmas” rather than “holiday” items. Indeed, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It may seem like I’m poking a little fun at Wal-Mart. Well, I am, just a bit. They can take it. They’re the world’s largest retailer. Don’t weep for Wal-Mart. They’re doing very well. The last thing they’re worried about is a once-a-week dope like me making jokes about blue vests. Wal-Mart is a great place to shop. Where else can you get your prescription filled, your oil changed, your hair cut, eyeglasses fixed, a baby picture snapped, open a checking account, and then go purchase nails, shotgun shells, sansabelt slacks, underwear, a Playstation, beanbag chair, wedding cake, live lobster, wheat bread and frozen peas all under one roof? Ask around a little bit and you can probably buy a roof, too. Oh, wait! And milk! I always forget the milk.

It’s refreshing when people start to buck the political correct nonsense that keeps everyone walking around on eggshells in this country. Some folks are so afraid to be themselves that they turn into a bland, lifeless milquetoast. Character is sacrificed for the sake of political correctness. If Wal-Mart wants to say “merry Christmas” then they should do it. If you’re offended by someone wishing you a “merry Christmas,” you have issues that go much deeper than a Wal-Mart greeter.

Have a merry Christmas. Yeah, I said it. So there. And I’m not even trying to sell you anything.

David Spates is a Knoxville resident and Crossville Chronicle contributor whose column is published each Tuesday. He can be reached at davespates@tds.net.