The Religious Right is constantly complaining that “angry atheists” and “radical secularists” are kicking Christ out of Christmas, but a new poll suggests that more and more Americans – Christians included – increasingly view Christmas as a secular holiday rather than a religious one.
A joint effort by the Religion News Service (RNS) and Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, which is no real surprise. (It’s also hard to imagine any sort of “war” on something that nine out of ten people in the United States observe.)
But the poll did uncover a growing trend of note: 26 percent of adults surveyed said they view Dec. 25 as a cultural holiday, not a religious one.
“The trend is in that direction, for sure,” PRRI CEO Robert Jones said, according to RNS.
And here are a few other facts that will keep Sarah Palin and her ilk up at night:
Only about half (49 percent) of people who celebrate Christmas believe the fundamentalist version – that the story of the virgin birth, the shepherds keeping watch by night and the three wise men coming to see Jesus in a manger is literally true, the poll found.
This finding represents a drop of 17 percent since a 2004 survey reported by Newsweek, RNS said.
The poll also asked people how they feel about being wished “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays,” and the survey found that attitudes toward these greetings are closely related to one’s age, religion and politics.
Almost half of those surveyed (49 percent) say they go with a generic greeting in December “out of respect for people of all faiths.” That’s an increase from 44 percent in 2010.
Most Republicans (61 percent) like to be wished a “Merry Christmas,” while 58 percent of Democrats like to hear “Happy Holidays.”
And while almost two-thirds of evangelicals like “Merry Christmas,” Christians overall were split 50-50 between the two greetings, the poll found.
Not surprisingly, the younger people are the more comfortable they are with “Happy Holidays.” Americans under age 30 prefer that greeting to the tune of 66 percent.
Religious observance also seems to be falling by the wayside for a lot of Americans who do celebrate Christmas. More Americans said they will watch movies like “It’s A Wonderful Life” (79 percent) than will attend a church service on Dec. 24 or 25 (59 percent).
Americans are also as likely to read about Christmas in the Bible as they are to read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” (36 percent apiece).
It’s not clear whether commercialization of the holiday drove the secularization of it, or if the secularization drove the commercialization, but it is clear that Americans spend a lot of cash on Christmas gifts. The poll found that the average person’s Christmas gift expenditures are $914, though 12 percent spend under $100.
In an interesting tidbit, however, 26 percent of the highest spenders (those who shell out over $2,000) are white evangelicals.
All of this information, which doesn’t come as a real surprise, may be the true reason that the Religious Right and its allies continue to fuel the phony “War on Christmas.”
There is no war, of course. What’s really happening is that American society is evolving, and those changes include a trend away from religious dogma. People don’t love Christmas any less than they did in, say, 1950. They just view it differently now. Freedom of religion gives them that right.
But don’t tell that to the Religious Right. These fundamentalists are absolutely terrified at the thought of people celebrating Christmas without reading the Bible or going to church, because anything that doesn’t conform to their narrow concept of Christian faith is just really, really scary.
Maybe the “War on Christmas” was never about reminding people that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Maybe it was always about the “War FOR Christmas,” because the Religious Right wants to define all facets of life in America, including the way holidays are observed.
With that in mind, maybe we should never be afraid to wish each other “Happy Holidays” from now on. After all, teacher says, ‘Every time you say “Happy Holidays,” a fundamentalist dies a little inside.’