Nine in 10 Americans will celebrate Christmas,
but a new poll shows that increasing numbers see the holiday as more tinsel
than gospel truth.
This year more than ever, Americans prefer that
stores and businesses welcome them with the more generic “Happy Holidays” or
“Season’s Greetings” than “Merry Christmas,” according to a survey released December
17 by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.
And for one in four American adults (26 percent),
December 25 is simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day.
“The trend is in that direction, for sure,” said
Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI. The percentage of people who say the Bible’s
Christmas story is historically accurate has fallen more than 17 percentage
points since a 2004 survey reported by Newsweek.
Even so, almost half (49 percent) of those who do
celebrate Christmas (including 80 percent of white evangelicals) believe that
the Virgin birth is historically accurate, that shepherds really saw a star
over Bethlehem and that three wise men truly visited baby Jesus in a manger.
Why the shift toward a more secular Christmas?
One reason, Jones said, is that a decade ago, many more people identified as
evangelicals, who (according to the poll) take the holiday most seriously.
Today, they are 18 percent of Americans—outnumbered by the 20 percent who say
they have no religious identity, Jones said.
Even though 73 percent of adults say Christmas is
either strongly or somewhat religious for them, among Americans overall:
* Most (79 percent) will watch Christmas movies
such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “A Christmas Story,” but a smaller number
(59 percent) expect to attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas
* People are equally likely (36 percent) to read the Christmas story from
the Bible, as they are to read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
* Those who
read the Christmas story from the Bible are twice as likely to be white
evangelical Protestants (68 percent) and minority Protestants (57 percent) than
other Christians. Fewer than one in three white mainline Protestants (27
percent) or Catholics (28 percent) say they do so.
* Just four in 10 adults
says the biblical Christmas narrative is a “theological story to affirm faith
in Jesus Christ.”
* Most adults are about as religious about Christmas as their
families were in their childhood: 70 percent celebrated it then as a strongly
or somewhat religious day, but 26 percent had a cultural celebration.
Evangelicals are the exception, again, said
Jones. While 97 percent say their celebrations today are primarily religious,
87 percent say it was so in their childhood. They also say they expect to
spend more this holiday than any other group that celebrates Christmas.
Evangelicals “take the holiday more seriously
than others,” both religiously and materially, said Jones.
PRRI found the overall average amount people say
they would spend was $914. The thrifty (12 percent say they’ll spend under
$100) are balanced by the extravagant (10 percent expect to spend more than
$2,000). However, 26 percent of the top spenders are white evangelical
Protestants, higher than their share of the U.S. population.
The survey of 1,056
adults, conducted December 4-12, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1