Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays? Americans Are Apathetic

Here's how Americans feel about the secularization of the holiday season.

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By Jodie Allen, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Sharing the view of the majority of U.S. News readers (judging by the "Are the Holidays Too Secular?" vote when I checked it recently), about half of Americans (52 percent) say they are bothered at least to some degree by the commercialization of Christmas. This, according to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, includes 26 percent who say that they are bothered by it a lot.

But most Americans, whatever their preferences for holiday celebrations and public displays thereof, are not highly concerned about the matter. When given the option of hearing "Merry Christmas" or a less religious greeting—like "Happy Holidays"—in stores and businesses, Americans do choose Merry Christmas by a 60 percent-to-23 percent margin. But when specifically given "doesn't matter" as an option, a 45 percent-plurality express no preference for how they are greeted during the holiday season—42 percent want Merry Christmas and 12 percent prefer the less religious greeting.

Seniors (those ages 65 and older) strongly prefer Merry Christmas (64 percent) but the youngest Americans (18-29) are much more likely to say it does not matter (59 percent). Politically, Republicans are the biggest advocates of Merry Christmas (62 percent), while nearly half (49 percent) of Democrats and a small majority (52 percent) of independents are unconcerned by stores' choice of holiday greetings.

As retailers and others crank up Christmas classics during the holiday season, an overwhelming majority of Americans (87 percent) have no objection at all to the "jingle bell rock" played in public during the "most wonderful time of the year." Only 7 percent are bothered "a lot" or "some" by hearing Christmas music in stores and public places.

Commercialization is a far larger source of concern to the public than is opposition to the display of religious symbols in public places. Americans overwhelmingly support allowing public Christmas displays at least if they are part of a display that includes symbols of other faiths and holiday traditions. More than eight-in-ten (83 percent) say that displays of Christmas symbols such as nativity scenes and Christmas trees should be allowed on government property, while 11 percent say that such displays should not be allowed. However, support falls sharply on the question of whether it is acceptable to display Christmas symbols alone on public property: Fewer than half (44 percent) of Americans say such Christmas-only displays should be allowed, while 27 percent say that Christmas symbols should only be allowed if Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other symbols are also displayed, while 12 percent say it does not matter or express no opinion.

White evangelical Protestants are nearly unanimous in their support of public Christmas displays, with 95 percent saying Christmas symbols should be allowed on government property. Furthermore, a large majority (59 percent) of evangelicals would allow such displays even if Christmas symbols are unaccompanied by symbols of other traditions. White mainline Protestants (83 percent) and Catholics (91 percent) also overwhelmingly support allowing Christmas displays, though many fewer among these groups (49 percent of mainline Protestants and 44 percent of Catholics) support displaying Christmas symbols in isolation. More than six-in-ten seculars (63 percent) are comfortable with public Christmas displays, although only one-in-four (27 percent) says they are acceptable if displayed alone.

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