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Search for Church Online Jumps at Christmas and Easter

While society openly debates the value of religion a new poll by Pew Research indicates that church still resides top of mind during the key holiday periods of Christmas and Easter.

More Americans search for “church” around Easter than at any other time, with the Christmas season usually ranking second, according to Google Trends data between 2004 and 2013. Google’s Trends tool measures the popularity of a search term relative to all searches in the United States. Data are reported on a scale from 0 to 100.

This is interesting in light of other studies that suggest that Christmas in particular is becoming more and more secular and is no longer viewed by many as a religious holiday. The December 2013 poll caused an uproar in social media by some who view the results of that survey as skewed.

“We found that December poll by Public Religion Research Institute a bit jarring, too.” said Jeff Westover, of My Merry, who has commissioned similar polls tracking attitudes about Christmas in particular. “While we’ve seen a decline in sacred-based observance of Christmas we’re far from seeing the majority view Christmas in a purely secular way. In fact, even their own poll showed that more than 70 percent of Americans would have religious elements as part of their Christmas celebration. But the results were so skewed and highlighted by the report writers and by the media especially that all anyone heard was how secular Christmas is becoming. And that’s just not true.”

The importance of online metrics in determining what people really think is quickly becoming a factor in judging poll results. Online behavior is user driven in terms of search. When someone clicks on a link or responds to a worded poll question a number of variables can influence results. Search is considered much more indicative of true thinking because users determine what is typed into a search engine.

“Religion, politics and commerce drives most polls relative to Christmas,” Westover noted. “We’ve learned this in conducting our own surveys over the years. So many different agendas claim Christmas that who people perceive are asking the questions goes more into the results than how they answer. And that’s because Christmas has almost during our entire history as a nation been both a sacred and a secular observance. Christmas was never recognized formally by the U.S. government as a religious holiday. It came about because of a secular concern, whether or not federal workers got the day off. Read that proclamation making Christmas a holiday. It is in stark contrast to the declarations of the same decade making Thanksgiving a holiday. Easter is purely religious, despite all the bunnies and grass and eggs and baskets out there. There are few Easter commercials, no War on Easter, absolutely zero political influence, pull or drag on Easter. Christmas is claimed by all those agendas and as such it muddles responses. These results based on Internet searches are very telling and I suspect more honest of what really drives folks around Christmas and Easter.”

Great Christmas Light Fight to Return

The battle for lights and frights is on! ABC has announced one series renewal and one new special from FremantleMedia North America. “The Great Christmas Light Fight” will be returning for a second installment this holiday season, but before stringing up the mistletoe, a one-part special, “The Great Halloween Fright Fight,” will debut this fall featuring families competing for the greatest of the ghoulish haunted Halloween displays!

Commented Thom Beers, CEO, FremantleMedia North America, “’The Great Christmas Light Fight’ really brought the holiday spirit to light in homes across the country. Our team had a terrific time producing this show and seeing so many magnificent displays that were of theme-park gravitas. We are excited to be coming back for more and to also be frightening the format for Halloween.”

“The Great Christmas Light Fight” first debuted on ABC in December 2013 and featured 20 families competing to have the greatest Christmas display. The families were chosen through an extensive nationwide search, based on their previous elaborate Christmas light displays, incredible choreography and over-the-top designs. On its debut, “The Great Christmas Light Fight” delivered ABC’s highest total viewers in the time period in five years and improved 17% over the prior year in total viewers and Adults 18-49 during its three-week run.

“The Great Christmas Light Fight” will be returning with six episodes, while “The Great Halloween Fright Fight” will premiere as a one-episode special. Both shows come from FremantleMedia North America (“American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent,” “The Price is Right”). Executive Producers for both series are Brady Connell, Max Swedlow, Thom Beers and Jennifer Mullin. FremantleMedia is distributing the shows and format internationally.

Easter Bunny Surpasses Santa Claus

No, it’s not an April fool — it is a poll and Christmas fans everywhere are in mourning: it appears the Easter Bunny is more loveable than Santa Claus.

In a new poll by market research firm the Easter Bunny marks the first time any holiday character has come close to overtaking the legendary man in red. 89 percent of respondents indicated they found the Easter Bunny appealing, compared with 87 percent for Santa Claus, 84 percent for the St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun and a distant 71 percent for the Valentine’s Day Cupid.

This survey appears to back up another done before last holiday season by My Merry that declared that the popularity of Santa Claus was waning. That survey showed that only 48 percent maintain a positive impression of Santa Claus. 43 percent said Santa receives too much media exposure and a whopping 56 percent Santa improperly influences children at Christmastime.

Santa fans fear the popularity of Mr. Claus will continue to slide as Hollywood takes shots at the mythical history of Santa as a Norse superhero known for killing bad guys in a new movie slated for release soon.

Turkey Asks the Pope for St. Nicholas’ Bones

To understand Santa Claus you have to understand the history of St. Nicholas. He wasn’t from the North Pole, there was nothing fat or jolly about him, and his ethnicity while hotly debated in the USA this past Christmas season is without a doubt beyond debate: he wasn’t white. He is from Turkey.

His bones, however, have rested in peace in Bari, Italy for many years. Turkey wants them back.

The Turkey-based Santa Claus Peace Council has said it has written a letter to Pope Francis, requesting the return of the bones of Saint Nicholas.

Council Chairman Muammer Karabulut said they were expecting Pope Francis to give a positive response to their request to have a meeting on the bones, which are currently in Bari, Italy.

“We have been struggling for the return of the bones since 1995. State institutions have also been involved in this struggle,” Karabulut said. “So far, we have not reached a conclusion.”

Saint Nicholas, a historic Christian saint, died in 343 at the age of 73 in Demre, currently a district of the Mediterranean Turkish province of Antalya. His habit of performing miracles and his reputation of giving secret gifts to the faithful made him a model for Santa Claus.

No word yet on whether Pope Francis is inclined to send St. Nicholas back to Turkey.

Target Hacked, Credit and Debit Cards Compromised

If you have used a credit or debit card at Target since Black Friday this holiday season you could be in trouble. The Minnesota based retailer is reporting that up to 40 million credit and debit card accounts could be affected by a breach in their transaction security.

The chain said that accounts of customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at terminals in its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have been exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards. The data breach did not affect online purchases.

The breach affected all cards, including Target store brand cards and major card brands such as Visa and MasterCard.

The Minneapolis company said it immediately told authorities and financial institutions once it became aware of the breach and that it is teaming with a third-party forensics firm to investigate and prevent future breaches. It said it is putting all “appropriate resources” toward the issue.

Target Corp. advised customers to check their statements carefully. Those who see suspicious charges on the cards should report it to their credit card companies and call Target at 866-852-8680. Cases of identity theft can also be reported to law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission.

Target didn’t say exactly how the data breach occurred, but said it had since fixed the problem and that credit card holders can continue shopping at its stores. When asked whether there’s a certain time when shoppers know their accounts will no longer be vulnerable, a Target spokeswoman said, “We encourage everyone to be vigilant.”

But news of the breach comes at the height of the critical holiday shopping season and threatens to scare away shoppers worried about the safety of their personal data. The November and December period accounts for 20 percent, on average, of total retail industry sales.

The issue is particularly troublesome for Target because it has has used its red branded credit and debit cards as a marketing tool to lure shoppers with a 5 percent discount.

The company said during its earnings call in November that as of October the percentage of customers who have the Target branded cards topped 20 percent. This holiday season, Target added other incentives to use its cards. Two days before Thanksgiving, ran a special review sale with 25 exclusive offers, from electronics to housewares for those who used the branded card.

As a result of these incentives, Target says its continues to see that households who activate a Target-branded card have increased their spending at the store by about 50 percent on average.

“This is how Target is getting more customers in the stores,” said Brian Sozzi, CEO and Chief Equities Strategist. “It’s telling people to use the card. It’s been a big win. If they lose that trust, that person goes to Wal-Mart.”

Target is just the latest retailer to be hit with a data breach. TJX Cos., which runs stores such as T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s, had a breach that began in July 2005 that exposed at least 45.7 million credit and debit cards to possible fraud. The breach wasn’t detected until December 2006. In June 2009 TJX agreed to pay $9.75 million in a settlement with multiple states related to the massive data theft but stressed at the time that it firmly believed it did not violate any consumer protection or data security laws.

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