Christmas becoming less Christian in the USA

Published 18 December 2013  |  
AP Images / Jason DeCrow

Most Americans are happy to celebrate Christmas but only half are interested in the religious aspect of the season, new research suggests.

While three quarters of Americans believe Jesus was born of a virgin, and 92% celebrate Christmas in some fashion, only 51% see Christmas as an exclusively religious holiday.

Only 11% of people suggested that the religious reflection and church experience was something they looked forward to about Christmas.

It seems that to most, Christmas is a mostly social holiday now, with 69% of people saying that the aspect of the holiday they most looked forward to was getting together with friends and family.

These are the results from a survey of 2,001 adults across all 50 states for Pew Research's Religion and Public Life Project.

Pew also found that just under a third (32%) regard it as a cultural event, while 9% say it's a blend of the two.

Factoring age into the equation, while two thirds of over 65s see Christmas as religious that number drops to 55% among 50 to 64-year-olds. It drops lower still to 50% in the 30 to 49 set, before plummeting down to 39% among 18-29-year-olds.

The same kind of picture is seen on matters of church attendance. Sixty per cent of over 65s said they will be visiting church on Christmas day, but they'll be joined by only 55% of 50 to 64-year-olds, 57% of 30 to 49-year-olds, and 46% of 18 to 29-year-olds.

Overall, 54% of those surveyed plan to attend church on December 25 this year, but religious observance at Christmas appears to have dropped, as 69% said they went as a child.

When researchers asked respondents to compare and contrast how they celebrated the season in their childhood to how they will be celebrating now, most are still planning to meet up with family (91% in their childhood compared to 86% today), give presents (89% to 86%), and put up Christmas trees (92% compared to 79%).

The image of rosie-cheeked Christmas carollers may be a popular one at this time of year, but the survey suggests that in reality it is an unpopular festive pastime. While only 36% of people say it was something they did in their younger days, that figure is now even lower with only 16% of people doing it as adults.

A third said Christmas was too materialistic, while 22% complained that the whole exercise was too expensive, and 10% said shops were far too crowded and busy this time of year.

Belief in the Virgin Mary is more uniform across the age groups, with each age group believing in her at 76%, apart from 18 to 29-year-olds (66%).

Unsurprisingly, those who believe in the Virgin birth are also far more likely to view Christmas as a religious holiday. Ninety-one per cent of those who said they believed in the Virgin birth said they see Christmas as something specifically Christian.

However, It appears that the diminishing Christian significance of Christmas hasn't ruffled too many feathers. Only 6% of people asked said that the thing they liked the least about the Christmas period was the increasing removal of Christ and Christianity more generally from the festivities.

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