It's funny, but about two weeks ago when I started plowing through the pile of holiday flyers that were packed inside the Sunday newspaper each week and occasionally in the weekday papers as well, I kept stopping at the Macy's ads, which said in big letters: "Believe!" And I thought to myself, Believe in what? In the fabulous perfumes they were selling for ridiculous prices? In the holiday china sets and flashy jewelry? And I considered posting about my annoyance here, but figured that maybe my heart was two sizes too small and I'd be accused of spoiling everyone's holiday cheer with my Grinchiness.
And then today I got an early Christmas present: this column by Jesuit Father James Martin in the Wall Street Journal. It takes to task all those marketers who use pieces of our Christmas message to sell their wares without actually putting anything of substance behind it.
Father Martin writes:
"The Christmas I don't like is the one most people don't: the commercial one. And this year what's been irking me are the slogans that companies are deploying in their December ad campaigns that hope to have it both ways: They're using religious themes without actually being religious. Call it faith-based advertising.
"Some aren't bad. This year J.C. Penney's ads featured the slogan 'The Joy of Giving.' (Giving is, needless to say, laudable.) But many advertisers couldn't seem to decide how religious their ads could be. Most are eager to glom onto the highly profitable Christmas angle without being Christian, which would be a challenge even for Don Draper and his 'Mad Men' copywriters. The cover of the Land's End catalog, which is bursting with preppy families who apparently divide their time between laughing dementedly, drinking steaming mugs of hot chocolate and petting horses, says: 'Make it Merry!' Make what merry? Celebrating the birth of Christ or petting a horse"
And finally, the moment I was waiting for, my least favorite ad of the year was one of Father Martin's choices for worst ad of the year: Macy's and it's ridiculous "Believe!" campaign, which tied with Eddie Bauer's "We Believe" campaign.
Here's Father Martin's take:
"The winner of this year's worst catch phrase is a tie: between Macy's and Eddie Bauer. Macy's shopping bags say, 'A million reasons to believe!' In what? What does Macy's want us to believe in? That Jesus is the Son of God? (Imagine that on a bag.)
"Nearly as maddening was the cover of this year's Eddie Bauer catalog, which proclaims 'We believe.' As with Macy's, I was eager to find out just what Eddie Bauer believed in. The Council of Chalcedon's fifth-century declaration that Jesus was fully human and fully divine? Not exactly. Page three professed the retailer's creed: 'We believe in the world's best down.'
"Of course I know that this is the way marketing works. Retailers use anything to hawk a product. And I'm sorry to be a stickler, but it's strange seeing the Christian faith being used and denied at the same time.
"Nonetheless, I try not to get too upset about it, because I don't want to let commercialism distract me from the reason to celebrate Christmas Day. Because I really do have a million reasons to believe."
Bravo, Father Martin. Thanks for being willing to be a Grinch with heart -- and faith.