Christmas Then And Now

In a survey by Pew Forum, Americans reveal how they’re celebrating Christmas now compared to past traditions.

The survey analysis was completed based on telephone interviews conducted in December 2013 using a sample of 2,001 adults aged 18 and older in the U.S. It is commonly believed that the way Americans celebrate their current Christmas is deeply rooted in their past Christmas traditions, including the tree and holiday cards.


Do You Celebrate Christmas as a Religious Holiday or Cultural One?

The survey results were staggering when compared to the participant’s past and present Christmas customs. Roughly three-fourths of Americans view Christmas as a religious holiday, while one-third feel it is more of a cultural one. 9% of survey responses said they view it as either both or neither. 1% sometimes celebrate, while 7% never celebrate Christmas. Among the religiously unaffiliated, 87% celebrate Christmas and 68% of those view Christmas as a cultural holiday. The survey is further broken down by religious groups, gender and age. Some holiday activities the survey included are:


  • Attending a gathering with family and friends on Christmas
  • Buying gifts for friends and family
  • Raising the Christmas tree
  • Sending Christmas or Holiday cards
  • Making and giving homemade gifts
  • Attending religious Christmas services
  • Pretending Santa Claus will visit
  • Going caroling

To break down the groups who view Christmas as a religious occasion, the survey drew from a wide group of religious affiliations. 82% of white evangelical Protestants, 66% of white Catholics, 60% of black Protestants, 51% of Hispanic Catholics and 56% of white mainline Protestants view it religiously. 57% of women and 46% of men view it religiously, as well. Americans under 30 are divided with 39% saying it is more religious and 44% saying it is cultural. 54% of the public plan to attend Christmas service, with 73% of those who feel Christmas is religious and 30% of those who view it as a cultural holiday in the pews. 91% of the adults who view Christmas as a holiday believe Jesus was born to a virgin, and half of those who don’t celebrate believe in the virgin birth.

Significant Differences in Celebration

Younger adults are far less likely than older adults to view Christmas religiously, and include religious elements into their celebrations. Adults under 30 are less likely to attend Christmas services or believe in the virgin birth. 73% of those who celebrate Christmas religiously are attending Christmas services, while only 30% of those who feel it is a cultural holiday will attend services. 91% of the previous group believe in the virgin birth, while 50% in the latter believe the same. However, there is less difference between how they celebrate with 90% gathering with family and friends and exchanging gifts, 33% of each will pretend Santa Claus came.

Gift Giving

86% of Americans plan to buy gifts for friends and family, including large portions of all religions and those without one. It is less common among those who are in a lower income bracket, with three-fourths planning to buy gifts this year. 89% of all Americans grew up buying gifts, while 2/3 said they made gifts as children. 65% of women and 51% of men who participated said they plan to give homemade gifts this holiday season. Of higher income brackets, 61% plan to bring homemade gifts and 59% of those earning less than $30,000 intend the same.

Family and Friends Gathering Together

91% of Americans grew up gathering together with friends and family for Christmas Day or Eve. It is common amongst all demographics with 51% of those who don’t celebrate, 88% of those who view it as cultural and 89% who see it religiously gathering among friends and family for the celebration.

Saint Nick

1 in 5 adults have a child at home who believes in Santa Claus while 14% of Americans have at least 1 minor child that doesn’t believe. 38% of 6 in 10 Hispanics have children who believe in Santa, while 21% of blacks and 15% of whites have children who believe. The survey found that it’s more common to have children who believe between the ages 30 and 40. Among those with children who believes, 69% plan to pretend Santa brought gifts. 18% of parents with children who don’t believe and 22% who are parents at all will pretend Santa came by. Three-fourths of Americans received presents from Santa as children.

Christmas Cards, Trees and Caroling

The nation is divided among these traditions. 79% plan to have a tree, 65% plan to send Christmas cards and 16% are going to be caroling this year. The tree is common among religious and non-religious groups. 73% of unaffiliated will have a tree. Last year, 32% of Jews had a tree. 81% of whites and 82% of Hispanics intend to put a tree up, comparable to the 65% of blacks who will be doing the same. 90% of parents with young children plan to put up a tree, with 73% of non-parents doing the same. 73% of adults 65 and older, and 68% age 50-64 plan to send Christmas cards, with 59% of adults under the age of 30 doing the same.

Likes and Dislikes of Christmas Holidays

There are many things to like and dislike about Christmas. A majority (69%) stated that they look forward to spending time with their friends and family during the holiday. 11% are eager for the religious elements of the day, 7% look forward to the joy and happiness, 4% enjoy the Christmas spirit, 4% love the music and decor and 4% look forward to gift exchanges. 4% just can’t wait for the season to end.

On the other hand, 1/3 of Americans can’t stand the commercialization. 22% dislike the expenses, 10% don’t care for holiday shopping and crowds, 6% don’t care for the lack of religion, 3% hate the weather, 3% aren’t much for the music and decor, and 3% hate the pace. 6% simply don’t want it to end.


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