Fact Check

Wal-Mart Merry Christmas Ban

Christian group calls for boycott of Wal-Mart after they instructed employees to say 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas.

Published Nov. 10, 2005


Claim:   A Christian group called for a boycott of Wal-Mart after the mega-retailer instructed employees to say "Happy Holidays" in place of "Merry Christmas" and a woman who complained about the practice received a dismissive e-mail.

Status:   True, but the boycott has ended.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]

November 9, 2005



A woman who recently complained to Wal-Mart that the store was replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" received an e-mail response from Customer Service. It appears below in its exact form:

Walmart is a world wide organization and must remain conscious of this. The majority of the world still has different practices other than "christmas" which is an ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism. The colors associated with "christmas" red and white are actually a representation of the aminita mascera mushroom. Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world.

To which Catholic League president Bill Donohue says: "This statement was signed by someone called Kirby. When I read it, I thought he might be drunk. But I was wrong. We sent Kirby's response to Wal-Mart headquarters only to find that Dan Fogleman, Senior Manager, Public Relations, agrees. After acknowledging that he read Kirby's response, Fogleman said, in part, the following:

"As a retailer, we recognize some of our customers may be shopping for Chanukah or Kwanza gifts during this time of year and we certainly want these customers in our stores and to feel welcome, just as we do those buying for Christmas. As an employer, we recognize the significance of the Christmas holiday among our family of associates and close our stores in observance, the only day during the year that we are closed."

Bill Donohue says: "It's nice to know that Wal-Mart is closed on a federal holiday. Now here is why I am asking the leaders of 126 religious organizations that span seven religious communities to boycott Wal-Mart. Go to its website and search for Hanukkah and up come 200 items. Click on Kwanzaa and up come 77. Click on Christmas, and here's what you get: We've brought you to our "Holiday" page based on your search. In other words, Wal-Mart is practicing discrimination. Contact Fogleman at xxxxx@wal-mart.com.

Origins:   This denunciation of Wal-Mart began appearing in our inbox in November 2005. The text was taken from a 9 November 2005 press release entitled

"Wal-Mart Bans Christmas: Boycott Launched" put out by the Catholic League, a group described on its web site as the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization. In an additional statement issued on 10 November 2005 by Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, the group announced Wal-Mart had been put on notice about the matter.

The Catholic League's protest has spurred response from Wal-Mart. Dan Fogleman of the company's public relations department confirmed the dismissive e-mailed answer did originate with a since-fired temporary employee identified only as Kirby.

Fogleman said that the e-mail had been taken out of context and that the stores, while encouraging employees to say "Happy Holidays," did so to include celebrations from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's Eve as well as Christmas.

In reply to our query about the matter, Wal-Mart sent us this response:

We at Wal-Mart believe this e-mail between a temporary associate and one of our valued customers was entirely inappropriate. Its contents in no way represent the policies, practices or views of our company. This associate, who was hired less than three weeks ago, is no longer employed by our company.

We sincerely apologize to any person or organization that was offended by the inappropriate and inflammatory comments made by this former associate.

Wal-Mart is proud to welcome customers of all faith, and celebrants of all holidays.

With more than 138 million customers coming through our stores every week and a variety of holidays that they celebrate throughout this season, "Happy Holidays" is a pleasant greeting that applies to everyone and every celebration. It's simply our way of wishing our customers a good time with their family and friends during this time of year.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

After Wal-Mart issued the above-quoted statement and altered its web site so that customers who search on the word "Christmas" are taken to an untitled display of Christmas goods (rather than being greeted with the notice "We've brought you to our 'Holiday' page based on your search"), the Catholic League called off their boycott of the retailer. (Wal-Mart has not changed their policy of encouraging employees to say "Happy Holidays" in place of "Merry Christmas," but the Catholic League maintains that policy was not one of the issues motivating their boycott.)

Barbara "season's bleatings" Mikkelson

Last updated:   12 November 2005

  Sources Sources:

    Alter, Alexandra.   "Faith-Based Groups Take Aim at Wal-Mart"

    The Miami Herald.   12 November 2005.

    Kabel, Marcus.   "Amid Catholic League Criticism, Wal-Mart Defends 'Happy Holidays.'"

    Associated Press.   10 November 2005.

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