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Is Christmas a Religious Holiday? A Growing Number of Americans Say No

Liam Stack, “Is Christmas a Religious Holiday? A Growing Number of Americans Say No,” The New York Times (12-13-17)

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Is Christmas a Religious Holiday? A Growing Number of Americans Say No

A long-simmering debate continues over how American society should commemorate the Christmas holiday. A new Pew Research Center survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past—even as relatively few Americans are bothered by this trend. In addition, a declining majority says religious displays such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property. And compared with five years ago, a growing share of Americans say it does not matter to them how they are greeted in stores and businesses during the holiday season—whether with “merry Christmas” or a less-religious greeting like “happy holidays.”

The most seismic change captured by the survey, from a theological standpoint, may be the declining number of people who said they believed the biblical story of Christmas accurately reflected historical events.

The survey asked respondents about their belief in four parts of the biblical Christmas story: that an angel heralded the birth of Jesus; that it was a virgin birth; that wise men were guided to baby Jesus by a star; and that he was placed in a manger.

Only 57 percent of Americans believe in all four, down from 65 percent in 2014. There were two factors that contributed to the trend, researchers said. One was that atheists and the religiously unaffiliated appeared even less likely now than in the past to believe the story of Jesus’ birth. The second was “a small but significant decline” of roughly 5 percent “in the share of Christians who believe in the Christmas narrative contained in the Bible.”

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