Happy Holidays

By Kersley Fitzgerald

A friend posted a moderate rant on Facebook the other day about a particular clothing store that has chosen an a-theistic marketing campaign this season. Looking at the websites of this company and its affiliates, I see graphics of packages, references to "the holiday season", and a few ornaments. And it looks like gift card options include a stylized tree and Santa. But no references to Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa.

Unlike my friend, I am not alarmed by this. I do not think this is blasphemy or, in any other way, an attack on the recognition of the birth of Christ. In fact, I am glad for it. For perhaps the first time ever, this company is not hypocritically using Jesus to sell shirts.

But there's another reason I will continue to support this company. When it comes to social responsibility, it is one of the best clothing companies out there. (Which, honestly, isn't saying much.)

A Secular Company's Responsibility

I believe it is far more important for a secular business to promote the welfare of its employees, contractors, and suppliers than to validate any particular religion. Exactly one month before Christmas this year, 112 people died in a garment factory fire outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Since 2006, over 500 people in Bangladesh have died in factory fires. These are factories that make the clothing American companies sell. Beyond the buildings being fire hazards, many people died for the simple reason that there were not enough exits.

Safe working environments are not the only consideration; fair wages are essential for several reasons. First, there is no justice when powerful American companies backed by the powerful American government to force foreign laborers to receive a wage that is below subsistence for significant work. In 2010, Haiti passed a law increasing its minimum wage from 24 cents an hour to 61 cents an hour. For an eight-hour work day, that would be a jump from $1.92/day to $4.88/day. American clothing companies refused, and the American government pressured Haiti into accepting an increase to $3/day. At minimum wage, Americans make $58/day. Tragically, the two companies involved have some of the best fair trade ratings of large, American apparel companies.

Another justification for fair wages is that when adults earn a fair wage, child labor goes down. When families can live off the income of the parents, children can go to school. If parents in Africa could support their families, we wouldn't consume so much chocolate, coffee, and tobacco picked by children — often unpaid, trafficked children.

The most convicting factor for the Christian is that the Bible tells us to pay fairly. James 5:4 says, "Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord Almighty." It doesn't matter if the laborers mowed our lawn or sewed our jeans; God still knows if we cared enough to pay them fairly.

A Christian's Responsibility

I am confused by the American Christian culture's tendency to make saving money and getting more for less a virtue on par with personal holiness. It is good to save money. It is good to be wise with money and make a little stretch a long way. But it is not good to do this at the expense of other families — even those halfway around the world. Twelve-dollar pants for your son sounds great until you realize that those pants are only possible because there is another boy who is picking through trash because his mother, who sewed those pants, doesn't make enough money to send him to school. Or buy him enough to eat.

There is an old, tired saw that says we should buy whatever we want because at least the people are getting something. I could understand that argument if the alternative was that millions of apparel workers would instantly be unemployed. But there are alternatives beyond the super-expensive, boutique fair trade companies. has a list of companies and how they rate. Check it out — there is at least one medium-box store with very affordable clothing that earned a "B" in social responsibility. And their boys' jeans, on sale, are $15.

American companies are playing a big game of catch-up here. The highest-rated companies may have good policies in place, but they don't always follow through. And it gets even messier when suppliers come into the mix. The majority of companies do not keep track of where their manufacturing producers receive their raw materials. A "B" rating could very well be because the policies are in place, including being open to third-party monitoring, while the workers' rights still need a lot of work.

But what is more important? For a Christian to shop at a store that uses the birth of Christ as a marketing gimmick? Or to frequent a store that is on the road to responsible business practices?

Christ in Christmas

For years Christians have been clamoring about secular institutions that "take the Christ out of Christmas." At the same time, we decry the commercialization of Christmas. An event that is supposed to celebrate the coming of the Savior of the world reduced to sales and consumption. Jesus is not about video games and new clothes and finding that sweater at 75% off — and going into debt to buy it all. We complain and cajole and argue and then hit Black Friday.

It's tragic that it took a secular company to take the argument seriously when most of us wouldn't.

Finally, in one small corner of the mall, the tradition of buying and receiving gifts has been separated from Christmas. And it wasn't done by pious Christians remembering the "reason for the season", but by a non-religious corporation. I don't know what caused this company to take Christ out of their marketing — conviction from the Holy Spirit or political correctness? Either way, I approve. Spending billions is not representative of the heart of Christ, but neither is putting "Christmas" all over a store in an attempt to sell billions.

I do not consider a secular clothing store's choice to use the word "Holiday" instead of "Christmas" to be a terrible, bad thing. I think it's a positive move that the commercialization of the season is being separated from the birth of Christ in one tiny way. It is far, far more representative of Christ's heart to care for the well-being of others. Even imperfectly, grudgingly, and not-yet effectively. The development of fair trade policies is something all Christians should encourage until companies see that caring for their contractors and suppliers can be the most effective marketing gimmick ever. Jesus doesn't look at the ads and the banners and the window displays anyway. He looks at the heart.

Image Credit: chiaralily; "Season's Greetings Firs Wallpaper"; Creative Commons

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Published 12-5-12