Two years ago, the discount chain substituted the word ``holiday'' for Christmas references and encouraged store greeters to do the same, in line with other retailers' removal of ``Christmas'' from advertising and stores.
Now, after criticism from religious groups, Wal-Mart is getting back in the spirit. For the first time, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based merchant is bringing Santas into its 3,407 stores. And, following an experiment at a few locations last year, the retailer has set up a ``Christmas Shop'' in each of its 1,500 outlets with garden centers.
``This is still a nation where the majority of the people consider themselves Christian,'' said Patricia Edwards, a Seattle-based portfolio manager at Wentworth, Hauser & Violich, with $13.4 billion in assets including Wal-Mart shares.
Last month, Lowe's Cos., the Mooresville, North Carolina, home-improvement chain, apologized for referring to ``Family Trees'' instead of Christmas trees in a catalog.
Today, Wal-Mart is broadcasting a Christmas concert it produced by the Salvation Army brass band and its own choir that will air in stores along with remarks from Pastor Rick Warren, author of ``The Purpose Driven Life.''
The chain is also offering photos free of charge with a Santa Claus in stores on weekends through Dec. 9. For families who can't afford pictures with department-store and shopping- mall Santas, the photos are ``absolutely a huge traffic draw,'' Edwards said.