Most Americans believe society is increasingly abandoning the religious aspects of Christmas, according to new Pew Research Center findings, but most Americans are not troubled by the trend.
Only 32 percent of Americans find the trend troubling, Pew found in the study released Dec. 12. While 56 percent of U.S. adults identified such a trend, a quarter of that group said the trend doesn’t bother them.
Concurrently, Pew said a religious appreciation of the season is declining among individuals themselves.
In the same study, Pew found declining numbers of Christians and unbelievers (“nones”) who approve of religious Christmas displays on government property, who embrace as historical truth the biblical story of Jesus’ birth, and who prefer religious greetings to secular ones during the season. Beliefs also broke along party lines, Pew said.
“There has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe that biblical elements of the Christmas story — that Jesus was born to a virgin, for example — reflect historical events that actually occurred,” Pew said of the study conducted in November and December. “And although most Americans still say they mark the occasion as a religious holiday, there has been a slight drop in recent years in the share who say they do this.”
Describing the decline as “small but significant,” Pew said 76 percent of Christians believe all four “key” elements of the biblical account of the Messiah’s birth, compared to 81 percent who believed the same in 2014. The virgin birth, the visit of the Magi, the announcement of Jesus’ birth by an angel and the baby Jesus lying in the manger are elements of the biblical account Pew included in polling. When considering society as a whole, Pew said 57 percent of Americans embrace all four elements of the story, down from 65 percent in 2014.
Nine in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas, Pew said, but festivities are increasingly based on culture instead of Christianity. More than half of U.S. adults, 55 percent, said they mark Christmas as a religious holiday, compared to 58 percent four years ago.
“To be sure, while the public’s commemoration of Christmas may have less of a religious component now than in the past,” Pew said, “the share of Americans who say they celebrate Christmas in some way has hardly budged at all.” Christmas Day or Christmas Eve church services were on the schedules of 51 percent of those polled, down from 54 percent in 2013.
Regarding Christmas displays on government property, two-thirds approve of such displays today, while 72 percent approved in 2014. When it comes to greetings in stores and businesses at Christmastime, 52 percent of Americans express indifference to whether greeters proclaim “merry Christmas” or some other expression. Nearly a third, 32 percent, prefer to hear “merry Christmas.” Respondents were equally split in polling in 2012 and 2005, Pew said.
Politically, more than half (54 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents expressed a preference for hearing “merry Christmas,” compared to 19 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents. About 60 percent of Democrats said it doesn’t matter, compared to 38 percent of Republicans.
Additionally, 68 percent of Republicans perceived that religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less today than in the past, compared to half of Democrats. Just over half of Republicans said the trend bothers them to some degree, compared to 21 percent of Democrats.
Pew conducted the 2017 poll Nov. 29–Dec. 4 in telephone interviews with 1,503 adults in all 50 U.S. states and Washington D.C. Most of the interviews, 1,126, were conducted on cellphones; 377 on landline phones. A total of 728 adults polled did not have landlines, Pew said.
The full results are online at PewForum.org under the Religion tab.
— Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.