In the poll carried out by ComRes on behalf of Theos, 34 per cent of people agreed that the statement “Jesus was born to a virgin called Mary” was historically accurate, while only 32 per cent said they believed it was fictional.
Women were more likely to believe in the virgin birth (39 per cent), compared to 29 per cent of men, and respondents were more likely to believe in the virgin birth than the appearance of the angels to the shepherds announcing Jesus’ birth. Only 28 per cent agreed that really happened.
The survey of 1,005 British adults also found that Jesus’ birth remains an important event culturally and personally. While 52 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that the birth of Jesus was significant, 72 per cent of people agreed that the birth of Jesus remained significant culturally.
Scotland was found to be the most religious nation, with 66 per cent of Scots planning to celebrate Christmas as a religious festival. More than half of the respondents (57 per cent) overall said they would be celebrating Christmas as a religious festival.
Theos said the findings may support reports in recent years of a rise in numbers attending Christmas carol services.
Figures released by the Church of England in February noted a seven per cent increase in attendance at Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services in 2006 compared to 2005 attendance figures.
According to the Theos poll, 44 per cent of Britons plan to attend a Christmas church service this year. St Paul’s Cathedral in London is holding identical carol services on the two days before Christmas in order accommodate the expected high turnout.
Commenting on the research, Theos director Paul Woolley said, "The extent of religious belief will no doubt surprise people, but these findings are consistent with other research we have undertaken.
"The number of people who believe the birth of Christ is significant to them personally is especially striking. In periods of financial uncertainty, when there is concern about losing jobs or homes, perhaps people are more open to thinking about life’s ultimate questions.
"Despite all of the hype around the recent success of recent books promoting atheism, it is clear that, for most people, religious belief cannot be explained away so easily."