National Edition

Most Americans celebrate Christmas, but not all as religious holiday

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 17 2013 10:05 p.m. MST

"In terms of how people celebrate today and how they marked Christmas when they were children, you have to be careful about describing it as decline or growth," Smith said. "We asked about the childhood and what they typically did. We asked specifically about what they did this year, too. What it gives us is a good sense of how the celebration of this year's holiday will compare to what they typically did as children."

Robert and Patty Wells, who live in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, celebrate very much as their parents and even their grandparents did, Patty Wells said. For generations — going back before her birth — the Christmas family party included weighing and measuring everyone. When her grandfather died, she said with a laugh, the in-laws rebelled and that part of the festivity ended. But the party is still the day after Christmas, involving extended families, and families still participate in a talent show.

As for Christmas Eve and Christmas, the individual families gather and read the scriptures, she said. "Before any mention of hanging stockings or talking about Santa, there's a close reading of Luke 2."

On Christmas Day, the grandchildren will come over and they will, among other things, perform a costumed human Nativity, Wells said.

In the survey, almost 70 percent said they attended religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day when they were children. Now it's just over half. Smith noted that people could volunteer that they were attending Christmas-related services on a different day and some did say that, but not many.

Loving Santa

The jolly old elf, Santa Claus, gets love from a perhaps-unexpected source, Smith said. About one-third of Americans plan to pretend that Santa has come to call with gifts. The surprise for Smith, though, was that while 69 percent of those are people who have children at home, another one in five who have no kids at home intend to pretend Santa visited, too.

"That speaks to the attraction of that particular aspect of Christmas," he said. In his own childhood, he said, one of his mom's cousins used to drop gifts on the front porch on Christmas Eve as part of an endearing and enduring part of the holiday.

Gregoire was raised agnostic but accepting of others' holiday traditions. Of "Merry Christmas," he said, "I don't mind hearing it or saying it." But in New York, where he lives, he noted, "so many don't celebrate" that people tend to be careful with their words. He believes people who are religious but of non-Christian faiths are the most sensitive to the holiday as a religious observance.

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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