The True Meaning of Christmas, According to the Data

Just when we thought we could gently ease our way into our Christmas Eve nighties, this poll on the holidays gives us cause for trepidation. What deep divisions in our polarized populace does it reveal?

Not many. More than 9 in 10 Christians, according to the Religion and Public Life Project of the Pew Research Center, celebrate the holiday. But so do 8 in 10 non-Christians -- including 87 percent of the “religiously unaffiliated.”

As for Santa Claus, on Christmas Eve he is expected at 69 percent of the homes occupied by a child who believes in him. (Or rather, in those homes adults “plan to pretend that Santa visits their house.” In the other 31 percent, presumably, no pretending is necessary: He actually does visit. Pew researchers seem not to have realized the significance of this finding.) One in 5 adults with no minor child in the house say the fat jolly one will be swinging by their place, too.

Americans are split on whether Christmas is more of a religious or a cultural holiday, with 51 percent calling it religious and 32 percent viewing it as cultural. But neither camp seems particularly vexed by the other. When asked what they like least about Christmas and the holidays, more people cite commercialism or materialism than any other issue -- and only one-third even volunteer those complaints. (Just 6 percent say they’re troubled by an absence of religion or of Christ. Apparently the war on Christmas hasn’t drafted many soldiers.)

Americans are united in how they like to spend the holidays, too: 86 percent say they intend to gather with extended family or friends on Christmas Eve or Christmas. Sounds like a plan. Merry Christmas, everyone, and happy new year.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at