Ninety percent celebrate, but fewer are going to church
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that while most Americans celebrate Christmas, most U.S. adults believe the holiday’s religious aspects are emphasized less now than in the past.
Nine in 10 Americans say they celebrate Christmas—a figure that hasn’t changed much since 2013, according to the survey, released this week.
But while most Americans say they observe Christmas as a religious holiday, that percentage has dropped slightly.
Half of all Americans say they plan to attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, little changed since 2013, the last time Pew Research Center asked the question.
In addition, there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of American adults who say they believe that biblical elements of the Christmas story reflect historical events that actually occurred:
Currently, 55% of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, including 46% who see it as more of a religious holiday than a cultural holiday and 9% who celebrate Christmas as both a religious and a cultural occasion. In 2013, 59% of Americans said they celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, including 51% who saw it as more religious than cultural and 7% who marked the day as both a religious and a cultural holiday.
The survey took a look at several Christmas-related areas of concern, including the propriety of greeting strangers (such as customers) with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” whether to display Nativity scenes on public property, and the question of whether Christmas is being secularized:
When asked directly, most respondents in the new poll say they think religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less in American society today than in the past. But relatively few Americans both perceive this trend and are bothered by it. Overall, 31% of adults say they are bothered at least “some” by the declining emphasis on religion in the way the U.S. commemorates Christmas, including 18% who say they are bothered “a lot” by this. But the remaining two-thirds of the U.S. public either is not bothered by a perceived decline in religion in Christmas or does not believe that the emphasis on the religious elements of Christmas is waning.
Pew said that one of the most striking changes in recent years involves the share of Americans who say they believe the birth of Jesus occurred as depicted in the Bible. Today, 66% say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, down from 73% in 2014, the research group said. Likewise, 68% of U.S. adults now say they believe that the wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts for baby Jesus, down from 75%. And there are similar declines in the shares of Americans who believe that Jesus’ birth was heralded by an angel of the Lord and that Jesus was laid in a manger as an infant.
Overall, 57% of Americans now believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story, down from 65% in 2014.