Debunking a beloved holiday Facebook meme

December 5, 2012: 7:47 AM ET

With the holiday season upon us, it's time for the annual passing around of the picture of a grocery store's sign declaring a ham "Delicious for Chanukah." It wasn't really a Wal-Mart sign.

The ham photo in question.

The ham photo in question.

FORTUNE -- It's become a holiday tradition on Facebook: every year around this time, friend after friend posts a picture of a ham on display at Wal-Mart promising that it will be "Delicious for Chanukah."

Oh, that silly Wal-Mart (WMT), so clueless inside its red-state bubble. The problem is, while the photo is real enough, it wasn't taken at Wal-Mart, but rather at a New York gourmet grocer, Balducci's, in 2007. That store, in fact, is not only not located in a red state, but is in Greenwich Village, the center of urbane cosmopolitanism.

The photo is certainly funny, or it was the first 17 times we all saw it. But it simply doesn't fit in the frame people keep trying to jam it into. Indeed, the Internet, and especially Facebook (FB), is rife with pictures of goofy behavior attributed to Wal-Mart that the company didn't actually engage in. Another example is the photo showing an express-lane sign that says "15 is this many" over a set of three hands. That one is entirely false, created for a contest run by the satire site Cracked.

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The "Chanukah Ham" shot was taken by novelist Nancy Kay Shapiro, who posted it, and a few others, to her Livejournal account. It was picked up by the New York Daily News. It seems clear that a Balducci's employee used a stock sign for a bunch of different products in the store. A simple mistake, perhaps made by a young goyishe clerk. The chain issued apologies after it happened.

Wal-Mart, it should be noted, is one of the biggest sellers of kosher food on the planet.

Perhaps the main purveyor of the meme on Facebook is George Takei, whose page is usually maintained by his husband, Brad Altman. Takei might be the biggest meme-distributor on the social-media site, where his 3 million followers regularly pass around his endless stream of funny (and "funny") meme-pictures. He (or Altman) posted the ham photo on November 10 with the comment "Oh dear, Wal-Mart. This brings FAIL to new depths." As of Tuesday morning, it's been shared nearly 33,000 times. Many of the 7,700 or so comments on the photo point out the truth of the photo's origins, but that hasn't inspired Takei or Altman to correct the record.

Facebook isn't the only place where the meme has spread. It's all over the Web, too: more often than not, with the false Wal-Mart information attached. "Walmart just doesn't get it," the site KosherFail declared last year, with the comment "I hear it's great on latkes."

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