Is Christmas a cultural or religious holiday?

Nine-in-ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas, but the meaning of the holiday is changing for many according to a new report by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life project.

Only about half see Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while one-third view it as more of a cultural holiday. Virtually all Christians (96%) celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds see it as a religious holiday. In addition, fully eight-in-ten non-Christians in America also celebrate Christmas, but most view it as a cultural holiday rather than a religious occasion.


There are significant generational differences in the way Americans plan to celebrate Christmas this year, with younger adults less likely than older adults to incorporate religious elements into their holiday celebrations. Adults under age 30 are far less likely than older Americans to say they see Christmas as more of a religious than a cultural holiday. They are also less likely to attend Christmas religious services and to believe in the virgin birth.

Today’s Question: Is Christmas a cultural or religious holiday?

  • JQP

    Oh ho ho ho…
    its economic.!!!!

    its the national blood test, annual colonoscopy, fourth quarter wallet check,…..
    Church, religion – why they compete for customers to come in the door just as hard as stores do.

    Christmas is the name we put on a national frenzy that starts in late June and ends sometime in mid February as post Christmas dump-the-goods sales and delayed office/group holiday parties finish out.

    HaPpy HoLiDaZe

  • PaulJ

    The religious have started calling it “The Feast of the Incarnation” (keeps out the rif-raf)

    • Sue de Nim

      That’s not new, only newly emphasized. Another classic name is the “Feast of the Nativity.” The name “Christmas” originated as a short, unofficial way of referring to the celebration.

  • AndyBriebart

    Wow, with all stuff going on with MNSure, Duck Dynasty, pajama guy, the federal budget deal, NSA, Barbara Walters saying Obama was the next messiah, and the list goes on,,,,,,,,,

    The question of the day is about Christmas?

    Merry Christmas to you all.

  • Jamie


  • Rich in Duluth

    I see it as a cultural holiday as most religious and non religious people participate in many of the listed Holiday Activities. I did all of them as a child and still do most of them.

    ….hey, what’s this about “pretend” Santa Claus will visit??!!

  • SPA

    Christmas is suppose to be about Christ (period)

    • Rich in Duluth

      Actually, the fact that you can celebrate Christmas as you please and I can celebrate as I please is one of the things that makes the U.S. such a great place to live.

      In those countries where this isn’t the case, you have religious intolerance leading to hatred and outright warfare between religious groups (Iraq, India, etc.). I would encourage you to
      celebrate the diversity we have in this country.

      • ARCC Guy

        I agree, but let’s talk about it. If I use a chair -placed at an angle to fit under the doorknob- as a security device, that is my right. If it works for me, wonderful. America, Baby! That said, it is a chair. The essence of it is chairyness.It was created to be a chair, and if someone asked me what it was I was using as a door stop, I wouldn’t say a lock, or a cow, I’d say a chair. Christmas may be celebrated in many ways, and seen/held in many ways, and that is a wonderful freedom. That diversity of Christmas utility- at least to me- doesn’t change the nature of Christmas. Just my two cents before I drop them in the kettle.

        • Rich in Duluth

          Yeah, good point, and that “chairyness” is what makes people, who don’t think about it too much, keep thinking it’s a chair.

      • JasonB

        ‘SPA’ has a point. If I might be presumptuous I don’t think SPA (nor I) would disagree with you. But the key word is ‘suppose’.

        There are other things of value and importance besides our legal rights,
        things that can’t be defined and regulated by laws – like honor,
        reverence, respect, etc. One can choose to celebrate a holiday in one’s own manner, but that does not mean that celebration is a valid expression of, or honor to, the meaning of the holiday.

        If a holiday is co-opted by festivities that have little to do with the meaning of the holiday, revelers are only doing themselves a disservice. I have the right and freedom to run around the streets wearing a silly hat while shouting ‘Happy Ramadan!’ if I so choose, but I doubt that my freedom to do so would validate such ignorant and self-serving behavior.

        • Rich in Duluth

          Okay, but I am objecting to the word “suppose”. Despite its supposed origin, Christmas is now celebrated by non
          Christians, and even atheists. Maybe I read too much into SPA’s comment, but the use of the word “suppose” implies, to me, intolerance of other ways of celebrating The Holidays.

          Jason, my objection is about intolerance. Our legal rights are an attempt to eliminate intolerance by saying we all have the right to practice our religion or non-religion as we please. I think our legal rights are extremely important, because they model how we should live with each other. The consequences of intolerance are very real.

          Your comment that those of us who choose to celebrate the holidays “by festivities that have little to do with the meaning of the holiday” are doing ourselves a “disservice”
          puzzles me. How? If I see the Christian religion as a belief
          in 2,000 year old myths, but enjoy giving gifts, colored lights, good deals on TVs, cookies, nostalgic memories, and family gatherings, how am I worse off than someone who does all those things, plus believes in gods and the
          associated practices?

  • Sue de Nim

    There are actually two holidays that go by the same name and happen to fall on the same day but are otherwise almost completely unrelated. One is about God’s selfless love for humankind, a love so vast that he went so far as to become one of us in the person of Jesus Christ to unite us with himself. The other is the cultural vestige of pagan winter solstice festivals and is an excuse for family gatherings, decorating with evergreens and lights and shiny things, and feasting on rich food, in defiance of the cold and darkness of this time of year (in the northern hemisphere). I celebrate both Christmases. About the only point of overlap is the cultural expectation of lavish spending on gifts, which is a crass parody of the kind of self-giving love that Jesus exhibited and calls his followers to emulate.

    (And the sainted Bishop Nicholas of Myra, who was famous in part for his generosity toward poor children, would be appalled at the way his memory is now being used to inflame the materialistic greed of rich and middle class kids.)

  • James

    Religious and cultural if you are Christian. Cultural if you are not Christian.
    More significantly, it is a lens through which the the deterioration of American family life comes clearly into focus each year as the traditions and opportunities to socialize and re-connect fall away and the pursuit of crappy gifts accelerates.

  • birth school work death

    American Xmas is a cultural holiday, and that’s fine. Want to celebrate in a religious manner? Cool, go for it. Want to celebrate in a secular manner? Also cool. Just please don’t demand that everyone celebrate a holiday the same way you do.

  • Jim

    Christmas, as recognized in the US, is a cultural holiday. The SCOTUS has ruled clearly on this. And, as has been stated before: Don’t demand that everyone conform to your personal way of enjoying the holiday (or your religion).

  • Jim

    Also: What do these have to do with Christianity?:
    Christmas trees
    Santa Claus (our current version)

    Gift exchange

    Seems to me these are all winter-solstice “pagan” features.
    And why did the Christian church place Christmas on top of the solstice (Yule/Jul), especially since no one has any idea when (time of year) the character Jesus was supposed to have been born? To stomp on Yule celebrations and/or co-opt them.

  • Jim G

    It is sad, but for me Christmas has changed over my lifetime from being a religious celebration welcoming the birth of the divine, to a crass economic gorging; co-opted by real life Mr. Potters from my favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful LIfe.” An amoral businessman, Mr. Potter, symbolizes all that is wrong in today’s Pottersville, USA. Wealth covers a great many sins, but the Grinch of Greed has become more evident to me in these later years. I find I am yearning for an angel, like Clarence, to help me find my way back.

  • Steve

    The Christian Christmas begins Christmas Day and ends 12 days later on Epiphany. Before that, Christians celebrate Advent. Both are religious. What we commonly call the “Christmas season” is a purely secular holiday.