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Is Christmas still a religious holiday?

Posted December 22, 2016

As the Pew Research Center found in 2013, about 81 percent of non-Christians celebrate Christmas in the United States. (Deseret Photo)

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.

5 Comments

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  • Freda Kerr Dec 23, 2016
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    It's not offensive at all to say you don't believe in Jesus or God. I like to say I'm a heathen, though agnostic would be the more correct term. I don't believe in the abrahamic faiths' version of god. I believe we all come from an energy of pure unconditional love (like ice cubes are the same molecules as steam, just vibrating at a different frequency). Hatred comes from one believing they are different and better than another.

    Christmas is a religious holiday to christians, and that's fine.

    Humankind has been finding any excuse to party since time immemorial. There have been ceremonies and celebrations around the longest night of the year - in hopes of bringing back the sun and warm weather - for centuries before christianity was invented.

    I celebrate love, generosity and compassion for all of my fellow humans.

  • Ken Ackerman Dec 22, 2016
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    Not to be offensive, I don't believe in Jesus or God but I do believe that the holiday we call Christmas encourages people to take at least a few minutes to think about others. Our society is so divided and hateful these days that anything which encourages people to be considerate of others is a good thing.

  • Mark Cline Dec 22, 2016
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    I agree with Arron Lee. Christmas is, and always will be, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether it is celebrated as such, or even held to be a "religious" holiday, by all peoples is irrelevant.

    Christmas has had many different cultural attachments, and has become a commercialized event because of the original gifts of the Magii.

    I, personally, believe the story of the Nativity is true in every detail. The timing of the events, though, have been skewed due to the need to condense the story into one night. For instance, the story of the Magii's journey.

    The most popular version makes it appear that they made their journey in one night. Another version might lead us to believe that they started their journey well in advance of the birth. A third version, the one I find most interesting, tells of the Magii visit with Herod. Herod learning from them that the star appeared much earlier, causing Herod to order the murders of all Jewish males less than 2 years old. Hmmm!

  • Arron Lee Dec 22, 2016
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    Sure it is. What a lame question.

  • Henry Evans Dec 22, 2016
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    It is for Christians, but the secularists now outnumber them.