Who’s welcoming Santa? Christmas by the numbers

Don Perkins, a resident at the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, dresses up as Santa Claus during its 22nd annual Christmas Store for needy families.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

If there’s a war against Christmas, Christmas seems to be winning.

According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of Americans celebrate the holiday, even those who aren’t Christian. The December survey found that 96% of Christian Americans mark the holiday, along with 87% of Americans who have no religious affiliation.

But there are big disagreements over what the holiday means. Roughly half of Americans surveyed said Christmas was “more of a religious holiday,” while nearly a third called it “more of a cultural holiday.” The rest said it was both, neither or they didn’t regularly celebrate Christmas.

Young Americans were less likely than their elders to see Christmas chiefly as a religious holiday: Only 39% of those ages 18 to 29 described it that way, compared with 66% of those age 65 or older, the survey found.

The yuletide survey, which included more than 2,000 adults across the country, turned up a list of other intriguing findings:


  • It’s not just kids who are setting out the milk and cookies: Pew found more than a fifth of adults who have no children in their household said they will still pretend Santa is visiting. In addition, nearly half of parents and guardians of minor children say they plan to pretend Santa is coming on Christmas Eve, including 18% of parents whose children don’t believe in St. Nick.
  • Whose kids believe in Santa? Pew ran a comparison between religious groups. Among parents with minor children, Latino Catholics were the most likely to say they had a child who believes in Santa, with roughly 3 out of 4 saying so. Less than half of white evangelicals who are parenting minor children said they had a child who believes in Santa, the survey found.
  • Some childhood traditions haven’t lasted into adulthood. Though 81% of Americans who were surveyed said they sent Christmas or holiday cards when they were children, 65% said they planned to do so this year. And although 36% said they went caroling as kids, only 16% planned to do it this year.
  • More than half of Americans surveyed plan to attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, including 30% of those who see Christmas mainly as a cultural holiday.
  • Pew also asked about religious beliefs tied to Christmas: Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans told Pew that they believe Jesus was born to a virgin. That includes 91% of adults who see Christmas as a religious holiday, along with half of those who see Christmas as a cultural holiday.
  • Nearly 4 out of 5 Americans plan to put up a Christmas tree, including 73% of those who aren’t affiliated with any religion. An earlier Pew Research Center survey found that nearly a third of Jewish Americans had a Christmas tree in their home last year – more than kept kosher, Pew found.
  • Commercialism topped the list of things that Americans like least about Christmas and the holidays, with 33% saying it was their least favorite thing about the season, followed by the expense (22%) and crowds and other annoyances tied to shopping (10%). Meanwhile, 6% said they were frustrated by the removal of Christ or religion from the holiday, while others lamented a long list of other frustrations such as “snow,” “gaining weight,” “have to go to church” and “it’s over too fast.”