In December 2020, a resident of St. Anthony, Minnesota, received an anonymous letter from a neighbor that described her front-yard Christmas light display as a “reminder of systemic biases” that may have a “harmful impact” on others who can't afford to erect holiday displays or who may have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter went viral after it was shared in a tweet by Crime Watch Minneapolis, an unverified account that shares “news-info-commentary about crime, public safety, and livability in Minnesota.” The group raises money through its Patreon page, which is a membership platform for artists and creators to solicit funding for projects.
“We're working to educate the public about how our criminal justice system works,” read the group’s Patreon page. “Minnesota’s criminal justice system favors criminals over public safety.”
According to an image shared in the tweet, the letter read:
I couldn’t help but notice your Christmas lights display. During these unprecedented times we have all experienced challenges which casual words just don’t describe what we’re feeling. The idea of twinkling, colorful lights are a reminder of divisions that continue to run through our society, a reminder of systemic biases against our neighbors who don’t celebrate Christmas or who can’t afford to put up lights of their own.
We must do the work of educating ourselves about the harmful impact an outward facing display like yours can have. I challenge you to respect the dignity of all people, while striving to learn from differences, ideas, and opinions of our neighbors. We must come together collectively and challenge these institutional inequities; St. Anthony is a community welcoming of all people and we must demand better for ourselves.
Snopes spoke with Kim Hunt, the woman who claimed that her residence and several others in her neighborhood received the anonymous letter on Dec. 7, 2020. Hunt, who lives with her husband and two teenage sons, said that her family had strung up the lights a few weeks before receiving the letter.
“My neighbor called me on my way to work and asked if I had gotten a strange letter addressed as ‘neighbor’ with no return address," Hunt told Snopes. “I checked the mail and indeed saw a letter that the mailman had just delivered.”
Hunt said that she had no idea who sent the letter, and that she was “shocked” when she received it. She posted a photo of it to her city’s Facebook group to see if anyone else got it, but did not send a photo of it to the Minneapolis Crime Watch page or to any media organization. She said that she was “completely blown away how viral” it became.
The tone of the letter was “not threatening in any way,” said Hunt. A formal police report was never filed, but Hunt said that the police were interested in obtaining a copy of the letter as residents in the town of St. Anthony had reportedly received a similarly formatted anonymous letter several years prior that addressed affordable housing and racism in a similar tone.
At the time of writing, the identity of the person who wrote the light display letter was still unknown.
“I have no idea who sent the letter,” said Hunt. “Is it a hoax? Is it real? We have no idea. I sure didn’t send it to myself and in no way did I ever dream this would make national news.”
And because the letter is anonymous, there is a chance that someone may have sent it to incite divisiveness during the 2020 holiday season rather than expressing authentic concern.
The so-called “War on Christmas” became a theme during U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 bid for presidency, in which the then-Republican candidate promised to “bring back” the holiday greeting “Merry Christmas” — a term that he claimed had been steamrolled by political correctness and replaced with “Happy Holidays.”
Indeed, in the years leading up to the 2020 holiday season, a number of false claims circulated the internet, from claiming that a Starbucks manager threatened to fire employees who wished customers a “Merry Christmas” to the unfounded accusation that a Muslim mayor of a Michigan town outlawed Christmas in 2017.