Christmas used to be emblematic of the great divide, sometimes a hostile one, between Jews and Christians, but Christmas in 2017 reflects America’s increasing diversity and generosity toward minority religions, particularly Jews.
A new Pew Research Center study on America’s relationship to Christmas, released today, found that although Jews are less than 2 percent of the population, 29 percent of Americans say that Christian displays, such as nativity scenes, on government property should be allowed “only if accompanied by other symbols like Chanukah candles.” That percentage was up 1 percent from 2014.
The number of Americans supporting Christmas displays on government property “even if unaccompanied by other [non-Christian] symbols” fell 7 percent from 2014, and the percentage of Americans who said that no Christmas displays should be allowed at all rose to 26 percent, up from 20 percent in 2014.
As for how stores or businesses greet their customers, a rising share of Americans — 52 percent, up from 45 percent in 2005 — say it “doesn’t matter” if they’re greeted with “Merry Christmas” or anything else. The percentage of Americans preferring to hear “Merry Christmas” fell to less than a third (32 percent), down from 43 percent in 2005. Only 15 percent (up from 12 percent in 2005) specifically wanted to hear a religiously neutral phrase such as “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings.”
There was a dramatic difference when the answers were broken down along party lines: 54 percent of Republicans, of those leaning Republican, preferred “Merry Christmas,” compared to 19 percent of Democrats, or those leaning to the Democrats. Only 7 percent of those in the Republican camp preferred “Happy Holidays” or “Season Greetings” compared to 20 percent of those affiliating with the Democrats.
Overall, the answers reflect Pew’s finding that “religious aspects of Christmas are declining” in American public life. Most American adults “believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past,” and there’s been a decline in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe the biblical elements of the Christmas story (for example, 66 percent say Jesus was born to a virgin, down from 73 percent in 2014; a similar decline was seen by Americans who believed wise men guided by a star brought Jesus presents, or who believe that angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds.) Nine-in-10 adults say they celebrate Christmas in some fashion, but 33 percent celebrate it as “more of a cultural holiday.”