Christmas: What It Means To America By The Numbers

Christmas: perhaps the most celebrated holiday in the US, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or any other background characteristic. At least, according to a recent Pew study which found that nine-in-ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas, and three-quarters say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. But only about half see Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while one-third view it as more of a cultural holiday. Virtually all Christians (96%) celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds see it as a religious holiday. More surprisingly, fully eight-in-ten non-Christians in America also celebrate Christmas, but most view it as a cultural holiday rather than a religious occasion.

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The findings are less surprising when Pew looked into how Americans celebrate the holiday: 86% of U.S. adults say they intend to gather with family and friends on Christmas this year, and an identical number say they plan to buy gifts for friends and family. Roughly nine-in-ten adults say these activities typically were part of their holiday celebrations when they were growing up.

 

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Something has changed with the passage of time, however: fewer Americans say they will send Christmas or holiday cards this year than say their families typically did this when they were children. The share of people who plan to go caroling this year also is lower than the share who say they typically did so as children. And while about seven-in-ten Americans say they typically attended Christmas Eve or Christmas Day religious services when they were children, 54% say they plan to attend Christmas services this year.

There are significant generational differences in the way Americans plan to celebrate Christmas this year, with younger adults less likely than older adults to incorporate religious elements into their holiday celebrations. Adults under age 30 are far less likely than older Americans to say they see Christmas as more of a religious than a cultural holiday. They are also less likely to attend Christmas religious services and to believe in the virgin birth. This is consistent with other research showing that younger Americans are helping to drive the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population within the U.S. But the new survey also shows that even among Christians, young people are more likely than older adults to view Christmas as more of a cultural than a religious holiday.

One-in-five adults say they are the parent or guardian of a child in their household who currently believes in Santa Claus. An additional 14% of Americans are parents or guardians of at least one child under the age of 18 but say their children do not believe in Santa Claus. (About two-thirds of Americans are not the parents or guardians of any children in their household.) Nearly six-in-ten Hispanics say they are parenting minor children in their homes, including 38% who have children who believe in Santa Claus. By comparison, fewer blacks and whites say they currently have Santa-believing children (21% and 15%, respectively), in part because blacks and whites are less likely than Hispanics to have minor children in the home.

Among those who have a child who believes in Santa Claus, seven-in-ten (69%) say they plan to pretend that Santa visits their house on Christmas Eve this year. But even among U.S. adults without a child who believes in Santa, sizable numbers plan on receiving a visit from Old St. Nick. Roughly one-in-five parents whose children do not believe in Santa (18%) say they will pretend to get a visit from Santa this year, as do 22% of those who are not the parents or guardians of minor children in their household.

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Other highlights from the survey:

  • Among the religiously unaffiliated, 87% say they celebrate Christmas, including 68% who view Christmas as more of a cultural holiday.
  • Roughly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say they plan to put up a Christmas tree this year. By comparison, 92% say they typically put up a Christmas tree when they were children.
  • Nearly six-in-ten Americans say they plan to give homemade gifts this holiday season, such as baked goods or crafts. There is a big gender gap on this question; two-thirds of women (65%) plan to give homemade gifts, compared with 51% of men.
  • Those who celebrate Christmas as more of a religious event are much more apt than those who view it as a cultural occasion to say they will attend religious services this Christmas (73% vs. 30%) and to believe in the virgin birth (91% vs. 50%). But on other measures, the differences in the ways the two groups will mark the holidays are much smaller. Roughly nine-in-ten in both groups will gather with family and friends and buy gifts this Christmas, and identical shares of each group will pretend to get a visit from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve (33% each).

And some of the findings in detail:

What do Americans look forward to the most and lest in Christmas:

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More religious or cultural:

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Will there be a Christmas tree?

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Who is buying gifts:

 

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Was Jesus born of a virgin?

 

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Instead of just purchasing gifts, how many actually prepare them:

 

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How many are gathering with the family?

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Source: Pew Research

    



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