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More Americans Celebrating a Secular Christmas

More Americans Celebrating a Secular Christmas

by Zach Hrynowski

Story Highlights

  • 67% of Americans will have strongly religious or somewhat religious celebrations
  • Protestants, conservatives and seniors are most likely to have strongly religious celebrations

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Next week, 93% of Americans will celebrate the Christmas holiday; however, the focus of the festivities will vary from family to family. While the birth of Jesus Christ is a primary aspect of Christmas for practicing Christians, many of the traditions associated with the holiday -- including the Christmas tree -- are not rooted in Christian religious practices, and a rising number of Americans will have secular celebrations.

A December Gallup poll shows that the percentage describing their Christmas celebrations as "strongly religious" has dropped to 35%, down from about half in Gallup's prior measures in 2005 and 2010. Conversely, among those who celebrate Christmas, 26% say their celebrations are "not too religious." This represents an increase of 10 percentage points over the past decade -- and mirrors the percentage of Americans who say religion is "not very important" in their life.

Religiosity of Christmas Since 2005
Thinking of the way you personally celebrate Christmas, is it a strongly religious holiday, somewhat religious or not too religious?
Strongly religious Somewhat religious Not too religious Do not celebrate
% % % %
2019 Dec 2-15 35 32 26 7
2010 Dec 10-12 50 29 16 5
2005 Dec 16-18 47 30 19 4

With a few exceptions, the percentage of Americans who celebrate Christmas in a "somewhat religious" manner generally falls within two or three points of the national average (32%) across all demographic groups. As a result, the demographic divergence tends to occur at the edges, between those whose observance of Christmas is strongly religious and those for whom Christmas is a secular affair.

While there are slight differences in the religiosity of Christmas by education and race/ethnicity, the divides by age, ideology and geography are more pronounced. This is perhaps unsurprising, as these divides can also be observed in overall trends of religious identification.

Role of Religion in Christmas Celebrations
Thinking of the way you personally celebrate Christmas, is it a strongly religious holiday, somewhat religious or not too religious?
Strongly religious Somewhat religious Not too religious Do not celebrate
% % % %
U.S. adults 35 32 26 7
Religious preference
Catholic 37 43 19 0
Protestant 50 35 13 2
No preference 4 15 62 19
18-29 20 31 41 8
30-49 28 37 28 6
50-64 43 29 22 7
65+ 47 32 15 6
White 37 31 26 6
Nonwhite 31 34 28 7
Conservative 47 33 13 6
Moderate 31 33 29 6
Liberal 16 31 45 8
East 29 30 32 9
Midwest 38 31 24 6
South 43 33 19 5
West 26 33 33 8
Postgraduate 31 25 34 10
College graduate 32 35 25 8
Some college 38 33 24 5
High school or less 36 32 25 7

As one might expect, Christmas is observed almost universally by Catholics and Protestants, with at least 80% of each group acknowledging a religious aspect of their celebrations; however, Protestants are 13 points more likely than Catholics to say Christmas is a strongly religious holiday for them. Additionally, more than 80% of people with no religious affiliation celebrate Christmas, with about two in 10 ascribing at least some religious significance to it.

The next-largest predictor of Christmas religiosity is ideology: Those who self-identify as conservatives are about three times as likely as self-described liberals to have strongly religious Christmas celebrations. While moderates' celebrations are slightly less religious than average, there is no statistical difference in their preferences from national trends.

About half of 18- to 29-year-olds describe their Christmas celebrations as at least somewhat religious, compared with 72% of those aged 50 to 64 and 79% of those aged 65 and older.

Bottom Line

Overall, Americans' likelihood to celebrate Christmas has not changed significantly since 2005. However, the religious component of the holiday has become less pronounced over that period, especially among younger and more liberal Americans. While Christmas is celebrated by the majority of non-Christian Americans -- who may celebrate the holiday more secularly than their Christian counterparts -- 19% of Catholics and 13% of Protestants also claim their celebrations are "not too religious." Moreover, the decline in religiosity of Christmas is in line with Gallup's overall research on religious identification, as well as how deeply integrated religion is in Americans' day-to-day life.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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