Is Christmas still a religious holiday?
Posted December 22, 2016
Christmas is more than just a religious holiday.
As the Pew Research Center found in 2013, about 81 percent of non-Christians celebrate Christmas in the United States. That includes people without religion, Buddhists, Hindus and American Jews. In fact, close to one-third of Jewish people (32 percent) have a Christmas tree in their homes during the December months, according to Pew.
More so, almost 1 in 3 Americans sees Christmas as a cultural holiday, not just a religious one, according to Pew. The data show that 92 percent of Americans celebrate the holiday, with 51 percent believing it’s a religious holiday and 9 percent feeling it is both a religious and cultural event.
Most Americans honor the holiday by attending gatherings and exchanging gifts with family members and friends on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve, according to Pew. About 79 percent put up a tree in their homes.
Only about half of celebrators attend a religious service on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve.
But Americans still want to see Christmas’ religious roots during the holiday season. Pew found back in 2013 that 72 percent of Americans felt that religious symbols should be shown on government property.
About 44 percent said it’s OK to show these symbols whether or not they included symbols of other faiths, whereas 28 percent wanted to see other faiths represented. Almost 1 in 5 Americans felt at the time that religious symbols shouldn’t be shown at all.
And the bulk of Americans believe in the story of Christmas, according to Pew. Close to 81 percent believe that Jesus laid in a manger, with 75 percent believing that the three wise men followed a star to bring their gifts to the baby Jesus.
Close to 74 percent accepted that an angel announced the birth of Jesus, and 73 percent felt Jesus was born to a virgin mother.
In total, 65 percent believed in all elements of the story. Only 14 percent said they didn’t believe any elements of the biblical story.
And even Christmas’ cultural symbol — Santa Claus — has a religious origin, too.
Quartz’s Selina Cheng reported this week that Santa Claus’ roots stem from a third-century saint, who believed in kind-spirited gift-giving. Little Nicholas, who was born in 270 A.D., used his wealth to help the needy, as he was a devout Christian. He later grew up to become a bishop. After he was persecuted by a Roman emperor, he became a saint in the Catholic Church.
“He remained a religious image throughout the Middle Ages before fusing with European folkloric characters, like Old Father Christmas of 17th-century England. He was portrayed as a cheerful Christmas figure but wasn’t associated with children, or gifts,” according to Cheng.
It was only when early New Yorkers began researching their Dutch roots that they discovered the character of Sinterklass, who evolved into the modern culture character we know today, according to Cheng.
So is Christmas a religious holiday? It just may be, in more ways than one.