PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite the fact that only a little more than 80% of Americans identify with a Christian faith, 93% of those interviewed in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll indicate that they celebrate Christmas. Remarkably in this time of economic turmoil, slightly more Americans say this Christmas will be happier than in prior years than say it will be less happy.
These results are based on a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Dec. 12-14. Respondents were asked simply: "Do you celebrate Christmas?" The 93% who responded "yes" is just slightly lower than what Gallup has found the four previous times it has asked this question since 1994.
The results for Gallup's latest breakdown of religious identification, based on more than 21,000 interviews conducted during the first 21 days of December, are shown in the accompanying table.
All in all, 81% of Americans identify with some form of the Christian faith. Thus, the fact that 93% of Americans say they celebrate Christmas (the major Christian holiday) underscores that Christmas has ramifications for U.S. society beyond just the Christian segment of the population. One logical hypothesis is that some of the 15% of Americans who do not give a religious affiliation were raised as Christians or were previously Christians, and still celebrate the holiday in some fashion despite not formally identifying with a Christian religion. Additionally, some of those who responded "yes" to the Christmas question but who do not identify with a Christian faith may celebrate in some secular fashion, such as exchanging gifts at school or the office.
Happier or Less Happy?
As noted, there is some moderately cheerful news in the data about the spirit of Christmas this year. More Americans who celebrate Christmas say that compared to prior Christmases, this year will be a happier Christmas than say this year will be a less happy Christmas.
About half of Americans who celebrate Christmas say that taking everything into account, Christmas this year will be neither happier nor less happy than prior Christmases.
But those who do say Christmas will be different split in the positive direction, with 25% of all who celebrate the holiday saying it will be happier, while 20% say it will be less happy. (This is the first time Gallup has asked this question, so there are no comparable benchmark questions from previous years to which to compare these results.) These findings might appear to be somewhat different than expected, given the highly negative sentiments Americans have expressed in survey data this year, particularly relating to the economy. But a recent Gallup update showed Americans reporting that they are more satisfied with their personal lives than they are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States, so these findings about Christmas may be another indicator of how average Americans are able to keep their heads about them at a personal level even while agreeing that things are in a bad way for the nation as a whole.
Those who said they would be less happy this year than in prior Christmases were asked why, with the responses in the accompanying table.
It is clear that the majority of the "less happy" group say they feel this way because of the bad economy or their own personal financial situations, as might be expected. The rest say they will be less happy because of events relating to their personal lives.
On the positive side of the equation, Americans who say they will be happier than in prior Christmases explain their buoyancy with a variety of cheery and heartwarming explanations.
This group cites family, friends, health, and religion as reasons for being relatively upbeat. Perhaps surprisingly, 22% say they are going to have a happier Christmas because they had a good year or are better off financially than they were last year.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,008 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 12-14, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.