By Aaron Earls
Many Americans still want Christ in their Christmas, but their number is shrinking.
While 9 in 10 Americans tell Pew Research they celebrate Christmas, less than half (46 percent) say they see it as a religious holiday—down 5 percentage points since 2014.
Compared to three years ago, fewer plan to attend church as part of their celebration (54 to 51 percent) and believe Christian symbols like nativity scenes should be allowed on government property even if unaccompanied by other symbols (44 to 37 percent).
Americans also seem less concerned about stores saying, “Merry Christmas.” More than half (52 percent) now say it doesn’t matter what greeting stores use, up from 45 percent in 2005.
Around a third (32 percent) now say they prefer businesses use “Merry Christmas,” while 15 percent want to hear “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings.”
The growing secular perspective on Christmas could come from the declining number of Americans who doubt the biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth.
From 2014 to 2017, fewer Americans say they believe the following about the biblical Christmas story:
- Jesus was born to a virgin (73 to 66 percent)
- Jesus was laid in a manger (81 to 75 percent)
- Jesus received gifts from wise men guided by a star (75 to 68 percent)
- Jesus’ birth announced to shepherds by an angel (74 to 67 percent)
The number of Americans who say they believe all four of those things fell from 65 to 57 percent. Only 11 percent of all religiously unaffiliated Americans believe all four—down from 21 percent in 2014.
Much of that decline can be attributed to the increasingly secular religiously unaffiliated. Acceptance of each of the biblical statements fell by double digits among Nones.
However, there were small but significant declines in the percentage of Christians who believe the biblical story of Christmas. While more than 8 in 10 accept each belief, there was a drop in acceptance across each one.
Among Christians, only 3 in 4 now say they believe all of those four statements (76 percent). In 2014, that number was 81 percent.
White evangelicals (91 percent) and black Protestants (83 percent) are the religious groups most likely to believe each of those four events happened as the Bible says.
Millennials Least Likely to See Christmas as Religious
At least half of every older generation say they celebrate Christmas more as a religious holiday, but only 32 percent of millennials say the same. Just under half of millennials (44 percent) say it is more of a cultural holiday, far more than any other age group.
They are the least likely to attend religious services around Christmas Day (42 percent) and to prefer stores use “Merry Christmas” (20 percent).
Millennials are the most likely to say nativity scenes should not be allowed on government property at all (33 percent).
That generation is also the least likely to accept the truthfulness of the events in the Christmas story and had the largest drops in belief on each of those since 2013.
Less than half (44 percent) say they believe all four elements of the Christmas story. In every older generation, belief in all four is at least 62 percent.
Unchurched and Barely Churched Grow More Secular
Those who attend church at least weekly saw little movement in their practices and beliefs since 2013.
Eight in 10 still say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. Similar numbers say they plan to attend a church service around Christmas.
Slightly more than 8 in 10 weekly church attenders say they believe all four elements of the Christmas story Pew Research broached.
In some areas, the number of those who attend monthly or yearly church services remained similar. In both 2013 and 2017, 6 in 10 say they celebrate Christmas a religious holiday. There is also no change in the 6 in 10 who say they plan on attending a religious service.
From 2014 to today, those who attend church monthly or yearly, however, saw steep drops in the number who believe Jesus was born to a virgin (81 to 70 percent), laid in a manger (84 to 79 percent), received gifts from wise men guided by a star (78 to 70 percent), and had his birth announced to shepherds by an angel (80 to 71 percent).
Previously, almost 7 in 10 (69 percent) Americans who attend church monthly or yearly said they believed all four. This year, it fell to 6 in 10 (59 percent).
Those who say they seldom or never attend church also grew more secular with their Christmas plans and beliefs, but a few still hold on to a religious perspective.
Only 9 percent say they plan to attend religious services. That’s down from 14 percent.
Seemingly, the more miraculous the Christmas event, the less likely the unchurched are to believe it. More than half (56 percent) say they believe Jesus was laid in a manger, but only 37 percent say he was born to a virgin.
Acceptance of each individual element was down among the unchurched, as well as acceptance of them all combined. Slightly more than 1 in 4 believe them all (28 percent), down from 34 percent in 2014.
Aaron is a writer for LifewayResearch.com.