Monday, April 13, 2009

Thinking about The War on Christmas in April

With spring finally banishing a frigid winter, Christmas is far from most people's minds. Not mine, though. While doing isometrics in my basement this morning, I noticed my roommate had finally packed up the 7-foot Christmas tree he had displayed since December. Nothing is better for halting time than a stalemate with gravity, so my eyes were free to roam over the cardboard box. In so doing, I noticed the conspicuous absence of the word "Christmas". "Holiday", "fir", and "tree" are used more than ten times a piece, but not a word on the actual holiday the thing is used to celebrate.

Has a tactic in the 'War on Christmas' been to phase out the holiday all the shopping is putatively done in anticipation of? I'm not privy to marketing information on changes in product packaging over time, but I am able to see what the news leader in print has to offer on the question. Using the New York Times' archival page, I looked at the number of stories containing the phrases "Christmas shopping" and "holiday shopping" by year. These are used because although many people travel and are away from work over the multiple holidays that take place over the last couple weeks of December, we only shop for one* (click for higher resolution):

The trend among opinion makers over the last couple of decades is clear.

"Christmas" is being abandoned in favor of the generic "holiday". I've heard (almost exclusively from those who are glad to see the diminuition of Christmas) that this is just a superficial populist issue for demagogues to use in attacking multiculturalism, secularization, and other progressive trends. To the extent that is the case, it's not my focus here. That there has been an identifiable shift in the emphasis given to what has probably become the most anticipated Christian holiday on the calendar in the US gives credence to forces like Bill O'Reilly and VDare that take up arms in the War.

What about the common folk? Have they recoded their annual moneyletting as the NYT has? Google trends provides the answer: No. Shopping for Christmas gifts still tends to be referred to as "Christmas shopping", with about a 2-to-1 advantage over "holiday shopping" (although each year the Christmas advantage is shrinking a bit).

* Over the 27-year period for which the search was conducted, "Hanukkah shopping" returns a total of six stories. "New Year's shopping" yields two, and "Kwanzaa shopping" brings one. People are shopping for Christmas, not a medley of holidays.


agnostic said...

If the goal is to compare which of the two is used more in a given year, and track this over time, it's easier to follow if you just plot the ratio # of "holiday shopping" / # of "christmas shopping", and use a time series or connected-dots graph.

Then there's only one thing to look at, and it should show a simple downward slope, which is easy to interpret.

-- the graph police

agnostic said...

Make that upward slope.

Audacious Epigone said...


As always, I'm taking notes.

The only problem there is that the combined frequency is missed. Christmas shopping is on the decline, but holiday shopping is rising more rapidly, so total attention to spending money during the Christmas season appears to be going up (probably because it's cheap and easy to write about).

Gruntled said...

Isn't there a reasonable distinction between the term I would use for my action and the term that one would use to describe the action of a religiously mixed collective?

Most people in this country are Christians, so it would make sense that most people describe their own action as Christmas shopping. However, when the Times refers to retail sales in December, they are covering not only the Christmas shopping of the majority, but also the Hanukkah shopping and Kwanzaa shopping of different minorities. For that the paper needs a collective term.

It is kind of like referring to the United States as a Judeo-Christian nation, even though there are very (very) few people who are, individually and personally, Judeo-Christians.

Audacious Epigone said...


There are around 6.5 million Jews and somewhere in the area of one million Kwanzaa celebrants in the US. So we're looking at 3% of the population, tops. The Christmas warriors contend that the shifting emphasis on a catch all "holiday" season necessarily deemphasizes Christianity. This time trend backs that up. Whether it has been for better or worse is arguable, but it has been happening.