It’s hard not to feel a little bit sorry for whatever nameless Hallmark artist designed this year’s holiday sweater Christmas ornament: while trying to avoid giving offense to a narrow subsection of the American population, he or she wound up offending pretty much everybody.
Even Americans who don’t celebrate Christmas probably know the carol Deck the Halls, which includes the line “Don we now our gay apparel” (a slightly archaic way of expressing the English-language concept “Let us change out of our drab, everyday clothing in lieu of bright, festive garments”).
Like thousands of other English-language words, the term “gay” has multiple meanings, depending on context. It originally meant “festive” or “happy”—when historians refer to the last decade of the 19th century as the “Gay Nineties,” that’s the definition they’re using—but in recent decades it’s also come to refer to people who are sexually attracted to members of their own gender. Which some other people find offensive, which is why Hallmark’s Christmas tree ornament altered the lyrics of Deck the Halls to say “Don we now our fun apparel.”
Oops. Few Hallmark customers took this well, if the comments on the company’s Facebook page are any indication. Indeed, the company managed to offend people on every conceivable level: traditionalists didn’t like seeing ancient Christmas carols altered.
Keeper of traditional values
“Hallmark claims to be the keeper of traditional values; then, you change the words to a [centuries] old Christmas Carol to appease maybe 2% of the population. What next will you remove the word Christmas from your cards and maybe refer to "winter holiday" or "winter solstice" so that you don't offend people. I am so sick of this PC society that will defer to whatever fringe of society that is yelling the loudest,” wrote one woman on Nov. 1.
Another man wanted to know: “Why are you willing to alter a part of our national history in order to avoid upsetting a very small minority? The minority being people who have a childish and immature reaction to the word "gay" as it’s used in this context….”
Not only did Hallmark censor the word “gay,” they didn’t even use an accurate synonym, as an amateur linguist pointed out: “Where's the "Fun" sweater? I was hoping it was here so I could tell you and your marketing team how idiotic you all are! The word is GAY. GAY means happy -- not fun.”
While the majority of Facebook comments criticized Hallmark’s decision, there were a few from people who supported it, such as this: “I think what you did was fine. If ‘gay’ meant the same thing as it did when the song was written, SURE . But I can foresee it being bought and used as a way to spread the acceptance of homosexuality WHICH is not what it meant all those years ago!!”
Hallmark responded to the outcry by releasing a statement which said: “Today [the word 'gay'] has multiple meanings, which we thought could leave our intent open to misinterpretation. The trend of wearing festively decorated Christmas sweaters to parties is all about fun, and this ornament is intended to play into that, so the planning team decided to say what we meant: ‘fun.’”
As professional writers ourselves, we humbly suggest that if Hallmark wanted to express the concept “Let’s have fun,” there were limitless ways they could’ve done so without altering the words of a public domain Christmas carol in a manner which leaves them open to charges of pandering to homophobia.
But in all fairness to Hallmark, this isn’t the only example or even the worst example of an organization making a fool of itself via avoidance of the word “gay.” The most infamous (and hilarious) example probably stems from the summer of 2008, when the anti-gay American Family Association decided that henceforth, its OneNewsNow website would never use the word “gay,” and thus programmed the autocorrect to replace any instance of the word “gay” with “homosexual.”
This might have gone unnoticed if not for an athlete named Tyson Gay, who spent that summer qualifying for the Olympics, which is why sports fans reading OneNewsNow were regaled by such headlines as “Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials,” even though (as the AP via OneNewsNow reported) “Homosexual misjudged the finish in his opening heat and had to scramble to finish fourth.”
We didn’t bother checking OneNewsNow’s archives to see if they included any stories about famed American author Homosexual Talese, or historic-anniversary articles marking the day American World War Two fighter pilot Paul Tibbets, flying his famous plane the Enola Homosexual, dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but we’re sure the archives are 100 percent free of gay apparel, just like Hallmark’s contemporary Christmas catalog.