Winning the Christmas War

All the great social movements of our time, it seems, start in Colorado Springs. The campaign to ban gays and lesbians from seeking legal protection in Colorado. The battle to eradicate all taxes. The crusade to pray to Jesus in a football locker room.

And, of course, the war over Christmas.

The tongue is firmly in cheek, people.

This week Wal-Mart and Macy’s announced they are bringing Christmas back to stores, after last year’s litigious army of Christian soldiers staged boycotts, calls for boycotts and other troublemaking antics against businesses who stuck with the more generic – and inclusive – “Happy Holidays.” Everyone from Jerry Falwell to the American Family Association to Focus on the Family founder James Dobson jumped into the fray. The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal firm founded in part by Dobson, launched a national campaign — and even trademarked it. The Christmas ProjectTM had this not-so-snappy slogan: “Merry Christmas. It’s okay to say it,” and announced 800 lawyers were ready to go after anyone who challenged the rights to “sing Christmas carols at school,” “pass out candy canes to classmates,” “call it ‘Christmas vacation,'” “sponsor a nativity scene on public property” and, just, “say ‘Merry Christmas.'”

The boycott idea was actually born at the Chapel Hills Mall in northern Colorado Springs a decade ago. That’s when Pastor Jim Hagan of Friendship Assembly of God Church went shopping and got upset when store clerks did not respond in kind to his wish of “Merry Christmas.” He had an epiphany, and took out a quarter-page advertisement in the daily Gazette. If companies and shop owners didn’t clean up their act, Hagan promised, they would be faced with a boycott.

“We will be monitoring,” warned the ad. “Should we, who consider ourselves Christians, spend our money at places that feel ‘Christmas’ is offensive? Aren’t those retail stores offending us — the majority — by promoting Christmas spending but denying the origin and reason for Christmas … Christ?

“After 2,000 years, have we still not found room for Him at the inn?”

— From a 1995 advertisement taken out in the Colorado Springs Gazette by Pastor Jim Hagan – a man way ahead of his time

At the time Hagan’s threat didn’t really catch on. “With all the culture wars to fight about, that would be one I would probably be a conscientious objector to,” said Rev. Stephen Todd, then the president of the Colorado Springs Association of Evangelicals.

But caught on it did. Last year Hagan modestly ceded to being the first with the idea. “I was thinking about rerunning my ad, and saying ‘Remember 1995? Is this prophetic, or what?'”

Cara DeGette is a longtime editor, columnist and writer at the Colorado Springs Independent, where a version of this story originally appeared.