December 21, 2015

5 facts about Christmas in America

Wherever Americans stand on holiday-time debates about Starbucks cups, zombie nativity scenes and billboards encouraging people to skip church, it would be hard to disagree that Christmas is still a big part of many people’s lives this time of year.

Just in time for the holidays, here are five facts about Christmas in America and how people celebrate:

1About nine-in-ten Americans (92%) and nearly all Christians (96%) say they celebrate Christmas, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. This is no surprise, but what might be more unexpected is that a big majority (81%) of non-Christians in the U.S. also celebrate Christmas. This includes 87% of people with no religion and even about three-quarters of Asian-American Buddhists (76%) and Hindus (73%). Roughly a third of U.S. Jews (32%) – many of whom have non-Jewish spouses – said in a 2013 survey that they had a Christmas tree in their homes during the most recent holiday season. Among Americans overall, about half (51%) say they celebrate Christmas as more of a religious holiday, while roughly a third (32%) say it is more of a cultural holiday to them personally.

2When they go to the store, which greeting do Americans prefer: “Merry Christmas” or “Happy holidays”? For some, this can be a sensitive question, but 46% of Americans say it doesn’t matter how stores greet their customers over the holidays. About four-in-ten (42%) choose “Merry Christmas,” according to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey. “Happy holidays” was the choice of 12%. We asked this question in two different ways; another Fact Tank post has details.

3Another sometimes controversial aspect of Christmas is holiday displays on government property, which prompt annual scrutiny – such as the case of a Hanukkah menorah being removed from a public space in Lakewood, N.J., this year. Last year, we asked Americans if Christian symbols such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property, and if so, whether they should be allowed by themselves or only if accompanied by symbols from other faiths. Americans have mixed views on this issue: 44% say Christian symbols should be allowed regardless of whether any other faiths are represented, 28% say Christian displays should be permitted only with symbols from other religions, and 20% say Christian symbols shouldn’t be allowed on government property at all.

4Americans largely believe that elements of the traditional Christmas story reflect actual historical events. More than seven-in-ten (73%) say that Jesus was born to a virgin and 81% believe he was laid in a manger. And similar shares say that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (75%) and that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus (74%). Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) believe that all four of these things actually happened, while 14% say none of them happened.

Most Say Christmas Story Historically Accurate

5Our 2013 survey found that 86% of Americans buy gifts for friends or family as part of celebrating the holiday. While Christmas gift-giving is ubiquitous, it also sparks mixed feelings among many Americans. In our 2014 survey, majorities said buying and receiving gifts makes them feel joyful (83%) and generous (78%), but considerable minorities also said it makes them feel stretched thin financially (46%), stressed out (36%) or wasteful (23%). Fewer than half of U.S. adults (45%) say they are looking forward “a lot” to giving and receiving gifts.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Christians and Christianity, Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

1 Comment

  1. Aleq Boyle8 months ago

    I’m one of those 81% and all the relevance of the “Christian” litany- fully. I’m also one who does not actually “Celebrate” as such, it is a contradiction of sorts- As a courtesy I attend events to be amicable- Yet, there is no Tree in my space- financials may play a roll in some of my attitudes. It has been a difficult several years economically for me.