Fact Check

Target Merry Christmas Ban

Has Target banned use of the phrase 'Merry Christmas'?

Published Nov. 19, 2005


Claim:   Target has banned use of the phrase "Merry Christmas" in its stores and advertising.

Status:   Multiple:

  • Target prohibited store employees from using the phrase "Merry Christmas" with customers:   False.
  • Target eschewed use of the word "Christmas" in its promotional material at the start of the 2005 holiday season:   True.
  • Target responded to public pressure during the second week of December 2005 and began using the word "Christmas" in its promotional material:   True.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2005]

Follow the link below to add your name to this important issue.
Go to https://www.afa.net/petitions/signpetition.asp?id=1470 to sign.

Target Stores have decided to ban the words "Merry Christmas" in their stores starting this holiday season. Please sign this petition, which is about this important issue. The American Family Association is calling for a national boycott of Target Stores on the day after Thanksgiving (the busiest shopping day of the year), please join in...do not shop at Target! Let's get the message across that you cannot take Christ out of Christmas, even if you are trying to hide the very words Merry Christmas!

Origins:   It was never true that Target had "banned" the use of the phrase 'Merry Christmas' in their stores. Store employees were, in Target's words, always free to "use their own discretion in offering a

welcome greeting or when speaking with guests." (We verified this by making a trip to our local Target store on December 2 and offering a "Merry Christmas" greeting to the employees we encountered there. All of them reciprocated by proffering "Merry Christmas" wishes to us.)

However, observation of Target's in-store, web, and printed promotional materials indicated that the discount chain was among the many retailers (in the U.S., at least) who began the 2005 holiday season by downplaying or eschewing use of the word "Christmas" in favor of the less-specific word "Holiday."

We didn't find any signage in our local Target that used the word "Christmas." All the promotional signs we saw carried the chain's non-specific holiday slogans, such as "Savings for the Season" or "Gather Round" (even though the text of the latter was always printed in the traditional green-and-red colors of Christmas). Even many of the shelf tags identifying Christmas-specific products employed the phrase "Traditional Holiday" rather than "Christmas" — thus Christmas stockings were identified as "Traditional holiday stockings" (as if there were some other traditional wintertime holiday celebrations that involved the use of stockings) and Christmas tree ornaments were described as "Traditional holiday ornaments."

(We do note that in many cases, the names by which merchandise is identified are supplied by the supplier, not the retailer. We saw boxes of decorative reindeer lawn figures which the manufacturer had designated on the packaging as "Holiday Reindeer," and we also noticed many artificial Christmas trees came in supplier-produced cartons which identified them only as "Pine trees" or "Fir trees," not "Christmas trees.")

Although Target's web site certainly offered Christmas-related merchandise, we found hardly any use of the word "Christmas" itself on any non-product pages — only sections with titles such as "All Things Holiday," "Holiday Catalogs," "Holiday Shipping Dates," and "Holiday Recipes."


Even Target's Holiday Shipping Dates link presents customers with a chart that informs them about lead times needed to ensure gift delivery in time for "the 25th" rather than "Christmas":


(We do note that this year a confluence of several holidays occurs in late December: Hanukkah begins on Christmas Day and ends just after New Year's Day, and Kwanzaa takes place during that same period.)

Likewise, the Target circulars we received with our Sunday newspapers have offered shoppers "lowest holiday prices" and invited shoppers to "Indulge your holiday guests," "Spread some cheer, treetop to tabletop," and "Bring out the beauty of the holiday" (even on pages advertising Christmas decorations), but the word "Christmas" itself didn't appear.

During the second week of December 2005, however, Target responded to public pressure and began putting the word "Christmas" back into their promotional material, as the Los Angeles Times noted on December 9:

Target, too, started the season with a generic marketing theme. It pushed holiday plates, holiday leggings, holiday ornaments, holiday trees — with nary a mention of Christmas. Then, more than 500,000 shoppers signed an online pledge to boycott the chain. This week, Target promised to bring more Christmas into its stores as Dec. 25 approaches.

The AFA also announced on December 9 that they had dropped the boycott of Target mentioned in the example cited at the head of this page.

Last updated:   9 December 2005

  Sources Sources:

    Simon, Stephanie.   "A Very Wary Christmas."

    Los Angeles Times.   9 December 2005.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags