New Saint Leo Poll Shows Christmas Viewed as Cultural Event in America, Most will Observe Holiday

December 01, 2017

Christmas Nativity Scene Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus as the son of God, but most Americans say they view the holiday as cultural rather than religious, a new survey released by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( shows.

The poll, conducted online November 19-24, 2017, asked 1,000 adults nationwide: “How do you view Christmas today?” Of the poll respondents, 43 percent say they think it is all or mostly cultural, while 31.3 percent say it is evenly cultural and religious. Saying they view Christmas as mostly or all religious are 15.3 percent, while 10.3 percent say they are unsure or have no opinion.

But a majority of Americans surveyed say they will celebrate Christmas in 2017 (85.2 percent). And among those who say they will observe Christmas, the favorite holiday greeting indeed is “Merry Christmas” with 72.3 percent preferring the salutation.

Other highlights from Saint Leo’s Christmas poll include:

  • Most poll respondents feel anxiety and will be glad when the holiday is over;
  • Among the annoying parts of the holiday are commercialization, “brag” letters, an artificially early start to the season, and the expense;
  • The favorite parts of Christmas: getting together with family, listening to Christmas music, decorating the Christmas tree, and opening presents;
  • And, last but not least, a collective opinion on the right age to reveal Santa.

Christmas CookiesThe decline in viewing Christmas as religious corresponds to a decrease in religious participation and a rise in secularism in general, said Dr. Marc Pugliese, assistant professor of religion and theology at Saint Leo University. “The reasons for these are hotly disputed,” Pugliese said. “One factor often mentioned is the distrust, even suspicion of, traditional authorities and institutions that has accelerated since the cultural revolutions of the 1960s.”

While historically many people turned to places of worship and religion to meet many of their needs, now they are turning to other sources, Pugliese explained. Others point to changing demographics including an increase in non-traditional families and growing “mixed marriages” of spouses of different religious and ethnic backgrounds to explain changes in attitudes toward Christmas and religion.

“It is important to note, though, that there is growing number of persons who identify themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious,’ with ‘religious’ referring to being affiliated with a major religious tradition,” Pugliese said. “These individuals do, however, have ‘religious’ beliefs and practices, but they are eclectic and piecemeal.”

Age appears to play a role in poll respondents’ views with younger people saying they find Christmas to be cultural (55.4 percent in the 18-35 age group; 44.6 percent in the 36-55 age group; and 33.4 percent in the 56 and older age group). More seniors say they view Christmas as mostly or all religious (19.2 percent of the 56 and older age group). In the youngest age group, 9.8 percent hold a religious view of the holiday while 14.9 percent of the 36-55 age group do the same.

“The results are also indicative of how Christmas is increasingly being viewed as more cultural than religious with each new generation,” Pugliese noted. “More baby boomers view Christmas as a religious holiday than Generation Xers, and more Generation Xers view Christmas as a religious holiday than millennials. Still, the numbers who plan to celebrate Christmas are very high across all three generations [85.2 percent]. Although they may have different views of its meaning and significance, clearly Christmas is an important holiday for all, regardless of their age.”

For more from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute’s survey on Christmas in America, go to:

To read Christmas Season Joys and Anxieties, a blog post by Dr. Christopher Wolfe, go to:

For a look at the 2016 favorite Christmas movies/TV shows, go to: Favorite Christmas shows, movies

For a look at the 2016 favorite Christmas tunes, go to: Favorite Christmas tunes