Bell-ringer: I was punched for saying 'happy holidays'

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Would you hit somebody for wishing you "happy holidays" rather than "merry Christmas"?

Kristina Vindiola said that's exactly what happened to her while she was working as a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army outside a West Phoenix Wal-Mart. Not only did she take a hit, she was fired.

Vindiola's family told 3TV's Karen Brown they believe she was fired because she reported the incident. Her boss, however, said she was a per diem worker and not guaranteed hours.

Vindiola, 36, had been a bell-ringer for a couple of weeks. She was counting on her paychecks to cover Christmas gifts for her four children.

Vindiola said after wishing a woman in her 60s happy holidays, the woman approached her and asked her if she believed in God. Vindiola answered that she did. She couldn't believe what happened next.

"She punched me," Vindiola said. "She said, 'Well say "merry Christmas."' … And she was yelling."

"She should have never laid hands on her," Vindiola's mother, Patricia Moreno, said. "If [Kristina] didn't say 'Christmas,' she still said 'happy holidays.'" Moreno believes it was the sentiment that matters, not the actual words used to convey it.

According to Moreno, the police were called, but at this point, the woman has not been cited.

A spokesman for the Salvation Army said bell-ringers are not required to say, "merry Christmas." They can say whatever they're comfortable with.

The Salvation Army also said Vindiola was not fired and that she signed a letter stating that she understood that bell-ringers are on call as needed.

While Vindiola said she was not longer on the schedule, the Salvation Army said she refused a scheduled with new locations and hours.

"I just wanted to work and give my kids Christmas," Vindiola said. "Thing happen worse to other people than what happened to Tina," Moreno said. "She's alive and well."

The debate over whether businesses should use "happy holidays" or "merry Christmas" is a national one, and it's been going on for years.

According to a new survey from the Public Religion Relations Institute, nearly half of Americans say businesses should respect people of all faiths by greeting customers with "happy holidays" or "season's greetings" rather than the more religiously specific "merry Christmas."

"Today, more Americans than not say they prefer businesses to greet customers with 'happy holidays'’ rather than 'merry Christmas' out of respect for the diversity of holidays being celebrated in December, such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, and others," Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO, said.

The gap, however, is small. Forty-four percent of those surveyed say businesses should use "merry Christmas."

Just three years ago, those numbers were reversed.

"Americans seem to be turning a corner on the appropriateness of more inclusive holiday greetings during December," Jones said.

It's not clear yet if Vindiola is going to pursue a lawsuit.