So sacred is the American holiday-shopping season that Franklin Roosevelt officially moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November (for years like this, with an extra one) to the fourth, to give retailers an edge. They'll need it this time around, as darkened Broadway theaters and striking Hollywood writers dampen the holiday spirit, toys have gotten scary, gas prices trudge ever upward, the dollar slips ever lower, and the credit crisis makes people feel poorer even if they aren't in foreclosure. One marketing firm predicts a "blue Christmas," citing slumping sales of tinsel as a leading indicator; 27% of shoppers say they'll be spending less this year.
To make matters worse, retailers must dodge the cultural crossfire that accompanies holiday fund-raising drives by activists on all sides. Environmentalists push Buy Nothing Day, an international shopping fast that urges people to "seek out greener alternatives to unrestrained consumption." The ACLU offers "talking points" in case Uncle Harry asks why the ACLU hates Christmas so much: Tell him "we work year-round to ensure that everyone in America has the freedom to practice their own religion (or no religion) and to keep the government out of religion."
Meanwhile, the American Family Association's Project Merry Christmas targets stores like Lowe's for advertising "family trees" instead of Christmas trees in its catalog. Having seen the boycotts of yore, Lowe's energetically apologized, citing a "breakdown in the proofing process."
Seasonal sensitivities have gone global: a story out of Australia made headlines worldwide after a department-store Santa reported being told not to say "Ho, ho, ho" for fear of offending women. (Santa's employment agency insisted it was actually worried about frightening small children and recommended a gentler "Ha, ha, ha" instead.)
Yet Pat Robertson observed on The 700 Club that wreaths and Christmas trees are hardly worth defending, since they are pagan relics and "are not an integral part of Christianity." You have to pity the civilian shopkeeper, caught in a war whose combatants don't even agree on which symbols are worth fighting over.