Religious retailers seeing the Christ in Christmas

By 
  • December 18, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The Christmas season always brings an upswing in sales for stores specializing in religious items as the public scrambles to buy Christmas cards and wreaths, gifts and Nativity sets for their home.

But for some religious suppliers, this year brought some interesting surprises.

“This year, surprisingly, we’ve been doing really well with Nativity sets. The general public has been buying full Nativity sets, adding pieces to their existing ones and also little baby Jesus’ on their own,” said Sal DiCarlo, head of DiCarlo Religious Supply Centre in Toronto.

Though the general public usually goes for the smaller creches, DiCarlo’s has sold a number of three-by-five-foot church-size creches, including the new creche in front of Toronto’s Old City Hall. 

“We’ve felt people are getting back into displaying their faith,” DiCarlo said. “For a while it was taboo to say ‘Merry Christmas’ — it was more like ‘Happy Holidays’ — but now the acceptance has come back and it’s OK to say Merry Christmas. And we can actually see there are more people buying Nativity sets.”

Brent Brodhurst, general manager of Broughton’s Religious Books and Gifts in Toronto, said he hasn’t noticed a greater demand this year for any one particular item, but as usual, anything Advent- or Christmas-related has been moving out the door at rapid speed.

“The cards, the candles, the wreaths and Nativity scenes are mainstays. And there’s such a variety of product and such a variety of desires out there,” Brodhurst said.

In the past year or two Brodhurst has noticed a small shift in buyers’ tastes.

“We’re seeing younger people demand more contemporary items,” he said. “There seems to be more acceptance of modern-style Christmas and holy messages in some of the Christmas tree ornaments and cards.”

He said there is some demand for more contemporary Nativity scenes as well, but that doesn’t mean traditional items have waned in interest.

“(It’s) a very small shift, but we’re certainly seeing an effect of the younger crowd coming in and picking up Christmas items and some of them are looking for a fresher look than the old traditional style.”

Novalis Publishing, which publishes the Living with Christ prayer missal, hoped to reach more Catholics this year through its web site and mail-in Christmas insert which it distributed through Catholic newspapers across the country.

“In a day and age when you have fewer and fewer religious book stores or Catholic book stores across the country, it’s really important for us to reach out as much as we can to people directly,” said Loretta Santarossa, director of sales and marketing at Novalis.

Novalis’s increased effort seems to have paid off, as books are flying off the shelves this year, Santarossa said. But it may also have to do with the shift in types of books published.

“Before, some of the books we published were more academic and those had a limited kind of appeal. So I think the books we’re publishing right now seem to be appealing to the broader audience,” Santarossa said.

A shift was made towards publishing more contemporary or cultural themed-books such as New Faces of Canadian Catholics: The Asians by Fr. Terence Fay, A View from the Trenches by Msgr. Dennis Murphy and the best-seller Death or Canada by Mark McGowan.

But spiritual self-help books are also in high demand, said Santarossa.

“I think what’s important is they’re not just becoming more interested, they’re buying stuff to feed their soul,” she said.

Catholics also seem to appreciate when all types of gifts have a religious connection, she said, which means there has been demand for items in the Christmas catalogue like fruitcake and chocolates made by Trappists at the Abbey of Val Notre-Dame and Christmas cards made by the Benedictines.

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