For Conservative Christian groups, this year's hot gift is a weapon for fighting back in the "War on Christmas," be it a button, a bumper sticker or a memo with advice to the troops.
The Mississippi-based American Family Association says it has sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers bearing the slogan "Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying."
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that boasts a network of some 900 lawyers standing ready to "defend Christmas," says it has moved about 20,000 "Christmas packs." The packs, available for a suggested $29 donation, include a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins.
And Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm affiliated with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, says it has distributed for free 16,000 legal memos on celebrating Christmas.
Leaders say demand for the goods—which are pitched online and through e-mail to supporters—is driven by what they view as a coordinated effort to secularize Christmas.
Alliance Defense Fund, American Family Association, James Dobson's Colorado-based Focus on the Family, and Concerned Women for America have banded together for a 2006 Christmas Project. Chief on its agenda is a list of "nice" retailers that use the word "Christmas" in their stores and catalogues and "naughty" ones that do not.
"It's a way to fight back against the secular progressives and promote the real meaning of Christmas," said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. "They make a statement to anyone who looks at them and reads them that the person wearing them wants to keep Christ in Christmas."
Because public debates over decorations and celebrations attract media attention, Christmas is a good time for Christian advocacy groups to attract potential supporters, said Anita Staver, president of Liberty Counsel.
"When its an issue affecting Christmas people will sit up and take notice," Staver said. "Then they may look at the other issues we're involved in," including church-state disputes, gay marriage and abortion.
The conservative Christian groups declined to provide all the numbers behind their Christmas efforts, but some did disclose how many items they had sold and distributed.
Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian legal group, has shipped 20,000 "Christmas packs" this year, said spokesman Greg Scott. The value of the "goods and services" included is $4, receipts show. The rest of the money goes into ADF's general fund, Scott said. A majority of the packs were sold for less than the suggested $29 donation, he added, though he declined to provide details.
By its own accounts, 2006 has been a very good year for the American Family Association. Through mass e-mails and other forms of public pressure, the Mississippi group says, it "forced Wal-Mart to stop donations to homosexual groups." AFA also says it convinced the television network NBC to pull "the anti-Christian program 'The Book of Daniel'" and cut a scene from a televised concert in which pop star Madonna sings from a crucifix.
AFA raised the flag in the "Christmas wars" in August by criticizing "holiday" catalogues. Benefiting from the early start, the association sold more than 500,000 buttons and 100,000 magnets encouraging supporters to "be an unspoken witness for Christ's birthday." The "Merry CHRISTmas" magnets were available for a $3 suggested donation; the buttons were $7 for a pack of 10. Bulk rates also were offered.
Wildmon, while declining to give specifics, said the products brought in a "slight profit." The project was so successful, he said, he plans to make Easter buttons this year.
"It's a pleasant surprise," he said. "It allows us to do a few more things."
Orders are also brisk for Liberty Counsel's Help Save Christmas Action Pack, said Staver, the group's president. The $25 pack includes "The Memo that Saved Christmas," which offers legal advice on celebrating the holiday at work and in public schools, along with buttons and bumper stickers.
The nonprofit law firm also offers the buttons separately. Costing 40 cents to make, they're sold 10 for $10 and at bulk rates, Staver said.
American Family Association's Wildmon said his group's items are so popular, they'd sell in some of the stores AFA targets.
"I'm telling you, if you put these in the stores they could sell a ton of them," he said. "But I don't want them to do that because they'll take it away from us."