December PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey
The Battle Lines in the “War on Christmas”: Religious, Political, and Generational
- Nearly half (49%) of Americans agree stores and businesses should greet their customers with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of “merry Christmas” out of respect for people of different faiths. However, a substantial minority (43%) disagree. Support for saying “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” is up slightly since December 2010, when 44% preferred that businesses use less religious greetings.
- White evangelical Protestants are significantly more likely than other religious groups to say stores should use “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays,” with 62% saying they prefer that businesses use the explicitly religious greeting. White mainline Protestants and Catholics are more divided. Among white mainline Protestants, 46% say they prefer businesses to use “merry Christmas” but 43% disagree. Half (50%) of Catholics say they prefer stores use “happy holidays”, but a substantial minority (44%) disagree. Majorities of minority Protestants (55%) and the religiously unaffiliated (58%) say stores should use “happy holidays” rather than the more religious greeting.
- The political divisions are stark. Roughly 6-in-10 (61%) Republicans favor using “merry Christmas” over “happy holidays,” while nearly as many (58%) Democrats say the opposite.
- There is also a wide gulf of opinion between the youngest and oldest Americans. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of young adults (ages 18-29) support stores and businesses using a non-religious greeting, a view shared by fewer than 4-in-10 (39%) of America’s seniors (ages 65 and older).
Christmas: A religious holiday for most, but not all, Americans
- In December, 84% of Americans report that they celebrate Christmas and no other holidays; 6% celebrate Christmas along with some other holiday such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or winter solstice; 6% celebrate some other holiday but not Christmas; and 5% say they do not celebrate any holidays in December.
- Among Americans celebrating Christmas this year, most will celebrate it as a strongly religious (42%) or somewhat religious (31%) holiday. But more than one-quarter (26%) of Americans celebrating Christmas this year will do so largely as a non-religious holiday.
- There are strong religious differences in how Americans celebrate Christmas. Among those who say they will celebrate Christmas, white evangelical Protestants (71%) are more likely than minority Protestants (54%), Catholics (49%), white mainline Protestants (38%) or the religiously unaffiliated (6%) to report that they celebrate Christmas as a strongly religious holiday.
- Seniors are nearly twice as likely as young adults to say they will be celebrating Christmas as a strongly religious holiday (51% vs. 26%).
- Overall, Americans are as likely to say they currently celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday as they did as a child. Similar numbers of Americans say they grew up celebrating Christmas as a strongly religious (39%), somewhat religious (31%), or not too religious holiday (26%).
- The most popular activity among those celebrating Christmas is watching Christmas movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “A Christmas Story.” Nearly 8-in-10 (79%) report that their family watches Christmas movies during the holiday. Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) say they will attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Fewer of those celebrating Christmas will read the Christmas story from the Bible (36%), or read the story, “Twas the Night before Christmas” (36%).
- Among those celebrating Christmas, white evangelical Protestants (68%) and minority Protestants (57%) are much more likely than white mainline Protestants (27%) or Catholics (28%) to report reading the Christmas story from the Bible.
- Nearly half (49%) of Americans say they believe the story of Christmas – that is, the virgin birth, the angelic proclamation to the shepherds, the star of Bethlehem, and the wise men from the East – is historically accurate. By contrast, four-in-ten (40%) say it is a theological story to affirm faith in Jesus Christ. Roughly 1-in-10 (11%) Americans say they are not sure.
- A majority of every major religious group affirms the story of Christmas to be historically accurate, although there are notable differences in intensity. Eight-in-ten (80%) white evangelical Protestants agree that the Christmas story is historically accurate, as do 6-in-10 (62%) minority Protestants, a majority (56%) of white mainline Protestants and a slim majority of Catholics (51%). Nearly 7-in-10 (68%) religiously unaffiliated Americans disagree, saying it is a theological story designed to affirm faith in Jesus Christ.
- Young adults (42%) are less likely to believe the story of Christmas is historically accurate than seniors (50%) or those ages 50 to 64 (56%).
- Belief in the historical accuracy of the Christmas story in the Bible has dropped 18 percentage points during the last decade. In 2004, two-thirds (67%) of Americans said that the story of Christmas was historically accurate, compared to only 24% who said it was a theological story.
Giving Gifts and Giving Back: Christmas and Holiday Spending & Charity
- Americans who celebrate Christmas are personally planning to spend an average of $914 this Christmas and holiday season, although there are significant differences in spending levels across income and age groups.
- Overall, about 1-in-10 (12%) Americans report that they will spend less than $100 on holiday gifts this year. Nearly half the country will limit their spending to between $100 and $499 (29%) or between $500 and $999 (20%). One-quarter of the public report that they will spend at least $1,000 including 15% who anticipate spending between $1,000 and $1,999 and 10% who are planning on spending more than $2,000.
- Most Americans (66%) report that they are planning on paying off their Christmas and holiday bills in about a month. Twelve percent say they will take one or two months to pay off their bills, while nearly 1-in-10 (9%) say they will take at least three months to pay off their holiday debts. About 1-in-10 (12%) refuse to answer this question or say they do not know how long it will take to pay off their holiday bills.
- Although the Christmas season is known to be stressful time of year, most Americans report they do not feel stressed about holiday spending. Six-in-ten (60%) Americans say they do not feel stressed about their spending, while 29% report feeling a little stress, and only 10% report feeling a lot of stress.
- Levels of stress vary considerably by income level and spending amount. Nearly half (49%) of those with annual incomes under $30,000 a year report feeling at least a little stress, compared to 23% of those with annual incomes in excess of $100,000.
- More than one-third (34%) of Americans celebrating Christmas report that they shopped for gifts at retail stores on Black Friday.
- Americans most likely to shop on Black Friday include those making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year (47%), young adults (50%), and black Americans (53%).
- Nearly 8-in-10 (77%) Americans celebrating Christmas report that they give to charity or volunteer to help those less fortunate as part of their holiday celebration, including 85% of white evangelical Protestants, 84% of white mainline Protestants, 77% of minority Protestants, 77% of Catholics, and 64% of the religiously unaffiliated.
The Distinct Profile of Evangelicals at Christmas
- White evangelical Protestants have a distinct profile in their approach to the Christmas holiday. White evangelical Protestants (71%) are more likely than other Americans celebrating the holiday (42%) to say that they celebrate Christmas as strongly religious holiday.
- They are also more likely to attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day than other Americans who celebrate the holiday (77% vs. 59%).
- Similarly, compared to other Americans celebrating the holiday, they are much more likely to read the Christmas story from the Bible (68% vs. 36%).
- Eight-in-ten (80%) white evangelical Protestants believe that the Christmas story is historically accurate, a view held by less than half (49%) of the general public.
- The average white evangelical Protestant spends considerably more on Christmas and holiday gifts than the average American ($1,153 vs. $914).
- White evangelical Protestants are more likely than Americans overall (62%) vs. 43%) to prefer that stores greet customers with “merry Christmas” as opposed to “happy holidays,” or “season’s greetings.”
 Princeton Survey Research Associates/Newsweek Poll, December 2004.