Despite the increasing effort to strike “Christmas” from our common vocabulary, 91 percent of Americans say that they personally celebrate the holiday, according to a LifeWay Research poll. While it’s not surprising that almost all self-identified Christians (97 percent) celebrate Christmas, 89 percent of agnostics or those with no religious preference, 62 percent of non-Christian faiths, and even 55 percent of atheists do so as well.
Much of this may be explained by the fact that, although the majority of Americans recognize the religious source of Christmas, Christmastime activities tend to be centered on family and traditions rather than the overtly religious. For example, 89 percent of households give gifts to family members. Other typical activities are having a Christmas meal with family or friends (86 percent) and putting up a Christmas tree (80 percent).
However, Christmastime does appear to inspire many to become more churchgoing. Not surprisingly, 70 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of Protestants attend special services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. In addition, 22 percent of non-Christian faiths, 9 percent of agnostics or those with no religious preference, as well as 2 percent of atheists attend Christmas services as well. In all, Christmas attendance is about 47 percent.
To put that in the context of the rest of the year, 10 percent of Americans attend religious services several times a year; 16 percent attend one to three times a month; 30 percent attend weekly or more frequently; and 43 percent rarely or never attend, according to the General Social Survey, which has tracked religious attendance in America for the last 40 years.
Since 1972, when the General Social Survey began tracking such numbers, religious attendance has been declining. Only the share of monthly attendees has remained relatively stable. The shares of yearly and weekly attendees have both decreased (from 14.5 to 10.3 percent and 41.2 to 30.3 percent, respectively), while those who rarely or never attend have increased significantly (from 28.5 to 43.5 percent). In fact, since the mid-1990s, those who stayed away have outnumbered those who go frequently, and the gap continues to widen.
The implications of such a pattern could be far-reaching. Decades of social science research suggests that individual and corporate religious practices are linked to positive personal and social outcomes, such as increased religious and secular charitable giving and volunteerism, a more stable and safer family environment, higher-quality marriages, greater parental involvement, better health for children as well as adults, and reduced risk behaviors among teens.