Political divides now seen in ‘Merry Christmas’ vs. ‘Happy Holidays’

Tourists walk past a large Santa Claus Dec. 17 near the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Tourists walk past a large Santa Claus Dec. 17 near the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — What’s in a name? Plenty, apparently depending on your political persuasion.

A report issued Dec. 19 by the Public Religion Research Institute indicates that Democrats and Republicans differ even on what they want cash-register clerks to say in December.

Asked, “Do you think stores and businesses should greet their customers with ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ out of respect for people of different faiths, or not?” self-identified Democrats by a margin of more than 2 to 1, replied that they should. Republicans, by an even slightly stronger margin, said no, they should not.

The actual numbers were 66 percent-30 percent yes for the Democrats, and 67 percent-28 percent no for Republicans. Independents said no by a much narrower difference, 48 percent to 44 percent.

When all Americans are taken into account, the yeses have it by an eyelash, 47 percent to 46 percent, according to the report, “‘Merry Christmas’ vs. ‘Happy Holidays’: Republicans and Democrats Are Polar Opposites,” by PRRI president Robert Jones and its research director, Daniel Cox.

Fifty-eight percent of Catholics favored “Merry Christmas,” as did 65 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 54 percent of senior citizens. Preferring a more generic greeting were young adults ages 18-29, religiously unaffiliated Americans (58 percent), nonwhite Protestants (56 percent) and mainline Protestants (a plurality, at 48 percent).

“Attitudes on this question are largely unchanged over the last six years,” said the report.

Over the past decade, according to the survey, the degree of religiosity with which Americans celebrate Christmas has slipped. The percentage of Americans who personally celebrate Christmas as a “strongly religious” holiday has dipped from 49 percent to 43 percent, and the percentage who celebrate it as a “somewhat religious” holiday has ebbed from 32 percent to 29 percent. Those for whom Christmas is “not too religious” a holiday has climbed from 19 percent in 2005 to 27 percent in 2016.

Fifty-one percent of Catholics told PRRI that Christmas is a strongly religious holiday for them, lower than the 74 percent reported by white evangelical Protestants, but higher than the 49 percent of nonwhite Protestants and 39 percent of mainline Protestants — compared to 30 percent of young people and 10 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

“Christmas continues to be December’s dominant holiday in terms of number of Americans celebrating it,” the report said. Of all respondents, 89 percent said they will be celebrating Christmas this December. In second place was Advent with 4 percent, followed by 3 percent each for Hanukkah and the winter solstice and 1 percent for Kwanzaa. Four percent said they would not celebrate any holiday in December.

Because many people spend time around Christmas with extended family, survey respondents were asked whether they talk about politics with family when they get together.

Those who said they talk with their families more often about politics are also more likely to report disagreements. Over Thanksgiving, 19 percent of those who said they talk about politics reporting having squabbled with kin over politics. By comparison, only 8 percent of those who never talk about politics reported disagreements. Eighteen percent of Democrats, and 12 percent of Republicans, reported that political differences arose over Thanksgiving. Young people reported more than twice as much family disagreement than seniors, 21 percent to 10 percent.

While 5 percent of Americans say they plan to spend less time with certain family members because of their political views, it is five times as prevalent among Democrats (10 percent) than Republicans (2 percent).

The survey was taken by phone in Spanish and English Dec. 7-11, with 1,004 adults, 615 of whom were on a cellphone. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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