The news: A recently released report from the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project suggests that millennials look at Christmas as more of a cultural holiday than a religious one.
The Harris poll that came out earlier in the month helps confirm this notion — according to the data, only 74% of U.S. adults believe in God, down from 82%. (On the bright side, belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution has increased from 42% to 47%.)
While nine-in-10 Americans acknowledge that they will celebrate Christmas this year, what seems to have changed is the meaning of the holiday itself. Within the group of those who view the holiday as religious, 73% intend to attend religious services during the holidays. Instead of being a religious event, the celebration of the birth of Christ and whatnot, it has become a day to gather with friends and family and exchange gifts. This is a dramatic change, as most people participated in holiday-related activities as children:
When asked to describe what they look forward to during the holiday season, seven-in-ten Americans cited spending time with family and friends — a mere 11% stating that they looked forward to the religious aspects of the Christmas season. A full 23% of Americans say they are “not at all” religious, up from 12% in 2007.
The background: Bill O'Reilly can be credited with re-launching the “War On Christmas” narrative, although Henry Ford and many others had addressed the pressing issue in the past. On December 7, 2004, O'Reilly aired a segment called “Christmas Under Siege,” in which he detailed the systematic assault on Christmas that was rapidly sweeping the nation, thanks to “secular progressives.” In O'Reilly’s own words: “Everything was swell up until about 10 years ago when creeping secularism and pressure from groups like the ACLU began attacking the Christmas holiday. They demanded the word Christmas be removed from advertising and public displays.” Contrary to what O'Reilly and Sarah Palin suggest, Christmas, as a holiday, is still going strong. In fact, as the data reveals, Christianity is definitely going strong — Christians alone account for about one third of the world population. While the way we celebrate the holiday has changed, does that necessarily mean that the war on Christmas has been won?
The takeaway: Christmas has always been about celebrating family AND God, does it really matter if that former has overtaken the latter? Does that really mean that the holiday has lost its significance? After all, regardless of the spiritual underpinnings of the holiday, it is undeniable that nine-in-10 Americans will celebrate it, an increase from previous years. The thing about traditions is that they adapt and change as those who keep them alive change — why shouldn’t Christmas adopt new meanings for those celebrating it?