Claim: Simon Malls (including the properties Roosevelt Field and SouthPark Mall) banned Christmas trees because they’re “offensive.”

MOSTLY FALSE

WHAT’S TRUE: Seven Simon Malls properties featured a newly-designed “Glacier” style Christmas display in 2015.

WHAT’S FALSE: Simon Malls (particularly Roosevelt Field or SouthPark Mall) updated their Christmas decor because people expressed “offense” at traditional holiday displays.

Example: [Collected via Facebook, November 2015]

This is nuts, saw on the news earlier. Here is Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island’s setup this year for photos with Santa. They will not have a tree for Christmas because people complained it was offensive. Calls are growing to boycott Simon owned malls as word spreads that they are doing this at many of their locations nationwide.

Origins: On 7 November 2015, Simon Malls became a popular topic on Facebook as social media users claimed the chain (and its Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, New York, in particular) had altered their holiday displays to feature a “spaceship-like” glacier structure rather than traditional Christmas scenery in order to accommodate shoppers who were “offended” by Christmas.

Long Island newspaper Newsday reported that the controversy over a purported Christmas ban at Roosevelt Field Mall blew up on the morning of 7 November 2015, after a user from West Babylon, New York, started a petition popularizing the rumor. While the user hadn’t herself visited the display, she claimed she had read about a similar controversy in another state:

Online, agitated commenters likened the glaciers to space pods and said the company was being “anti Christmas” and “too politically correct.”

A petition started by West Babylon resident Jessica Juzwa-Rudin calling for Simon to “bring back Christmas” garnered 1,000 signatures in about six hours and a Facebook page advocating a boycott gained similar traction. Juzwa-Rudin, 25, said she read about a similar controversy at a Simon mall in Charlotte, North Carolina, and decided to mirror the shoppers’ efforts.

“If you go and see a big plastic structure instead of the tree with lights, there’s a change in mood,” said Juzwa-Rudin, who had not seen the display yet when she started the petition.

Detroit television station WJBK reported the “Glacier” display at Charlotte, North Carolina’s, SouthPark Mall had inspired similar rumors, quoting a representative for that mall as saying:

“SouthPark is thrilled to be among the first wave of Simon centers to receive the new “Glacier” Santa experience. The reinvented and modernized experience will bring the Charlotte community together in a way that hasn’t been done before. Simon values tradition, and that’s exactly why we wanted to refresh and modernize our holiday experience at SouthPark to keep the tradition fresh and exciting. This new experience will delight our shoppers and their families with fun and interactive elements, including a sound and light show every 30 minutes. We’re aiming to create a magical experience — something truly different and fun for families to enjoy together this year and for years to come.”

It isn’t clear where Juzwa-Rudin got the idea “offense” inspired Simon Malls’ Christmas decor, but her petition claimed that:

Simon Malls have decided to use these virtual pods (glaciers) for photos with Santa instead of the traditional Christmas Tree & decor to avoid offending anyone. It is our mission to let them know how many people they are offending with these PODS and taking the joy and magical spirit away from Christmas! #protestthepod

The petition caught on as mall-goers spread rumors that the newly-designed, spare white Christmas display was aimed at causing minimal offense. On the afternoon of 7 November 2015, Roosevelt Field Mall released a statement explaining that their intent in redesigning some displays was purely aesthetic:

‘Glacier,’ inspired by the shimmer and magic of the arctic, was designed to illuminate every imagination. Key elements are still being added to the Glacier experience at Roosevelt Field over the coming week — and after hearing early customer feedback, one of those elements will be a traditional Christmas tree alongside the Glacier experience.

Another Long Island news outlet reported that the “Glacier” theme was featured at seven Simon Malls properties, including Roosevelt Field (and as WJBK noted, SouthPark Mall). We were unable to find any information substantiating claims the installation was inspired by a desire to be Christmas-neutral:

The statement says that Roosevelt Field is one of seven malls across the U.S. owned by Simon Properties to roll out “Glacier,” which it decribes as “a uniquely modern and interactive Santa experience featuring cutting edge artistic design.”

As the statement indicated, a Christmas tree was to be added to the updated “Glacier” decor motif. But the core claim (that Simon Malls or Roosevelt Field had “banned traditional Christmas” decor) was contradicted by the immediate addition of a standard Christmas tree to their displays, the chain’s use of the word “Christmas” in reference to their displays, the fact that the “Glacier” installation appeared at only seven of the chain’s malls, and (most illogically) the inherent dissonance of a claim that a mall operator who put up Christmastime holiday installations in order to provide an opportunity for children to be photographed with Santa Claus was somehow “banning” Christmas.

Although the retail chain immediately issued a statement addressing the rumors, angry comments continued flooding onto their Facebook page:

Who thought this was a good idea to change the traditional Santa display? I’m guessing the same people who don’t want to say “Merry Christmas” bec someone will be offended. The display looks terrible. Seriously, fire the idiots who stole Christmas.

You’re too late with your damage control tiny Christmas Tree Simon Malls. You already sent the message. None of your malls will EVER get another PENNY from me.

In 2014, Simon Malls faced a similar social media backlash regarding their operating hours over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Last updated: 7 November 2015

Originally published: 7 November 2015