Only half of the U.S. population sees Christmas as a religious holiday.
Most white, evangelical Protestants unequivocally say Christmas is a religious holiday.
Of white, mainline Protestants, that figure falls to barely 50 percent.
If you’re above 65, you may be among the two-thirds of that age group who celebrate Christmas as a religious event.
But if you’re an adult under 30, there’s a good chance you’ll spend next week thinking the holiday is more a cultural event than a cornerstone day in the Christian faith.
That information comes courtesy of the Pew Research Center, which Wednesday released a trove of information in its latest Religion and Public Life Project. It is encyclopedic in scope and reaffirming in its findings. But two points are unmistakable:
• The younger you are, the less likely you are to include religious events, ceremonies or thoughts in your Christmas celebrations.
• White, evangelical Americans are atop virtually every metric that binds religion and the Christmas holiday.
Count us among those who aren’t surprised.
Nevertheless, we live deep within America’s Bible Belt, a part of the nation dominated religiously by the Protestant faiths and their good works. Southerners are open about their faith and proud of it to a fault. Churches of many denominations are as ubiquitous here as sand is on American beaches.
To those worried about Americans’ modern take on religion, Pew’s findings may be more bitter than expected.
Recent national surveys have well documented the rise of the “Nones” — Americans who do not attend church and do not associate with any particular religious faith. For the concerned, Pew’s findings are cruel: Not only are young Americans increasingly staying away from organized religion, significant numbers of them (44 percent under the age of 30) celebrate Christmas wholly different than America’s church-goers. The difference is stark.
As Pew wrote, “This is consistent with other research showing that younger Americans are helping to drive the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population within the U.S. But the new survey also shows that even among Christians, young people are more likely than older adults to view Christmas as more of a cultural than a religious holiday.”
Viewing Pew’s findings through the lens of America’s changing demographics is a fascinating study. Each year, the United States is less white and less native-born than it was previously. America’s diversifying population is forcing us to change our schools, our politics and our willingness to accept cultures different than our own. In almost all ways, such diversity makes the United States, a nation built by immigrants, a better place.
Diversity of religion, even at the holy time of Christmas, can’t be avoided. It is part of who we are.