by Andrew Whitehead
As we all continue to count down the days to December 25th, we here at the U.S. Congregational Life Survey office want to wish all our readers a joyous and peaceful holiday season.
For a bit of fun, we thought it would be interesting to discover what worshipers thought about various aspects of Christmas. While the U.S. Congregational Life Survey can provide insight into a host of fascinating topics like religious giving, caring for war veterans, private religious behaviors, the importance of congregational location, belief in evil, the paranormal, or God, it does not contain any measures of worshipers views toward the Christmas holiday. To do so, we are forced turn elsewhere.
There are two symbols of this holiday season that are ever-present in American culture: Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Using the 2007 Baylor Religion Survey we can assess the extent to which Americans believe in Santa Claus and participate in the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree.
Comparing a number of religious traditions with those who do not claim a religious affiliation, an interesting pattern emerges concerning who puts up a Christmas tree, and who does not.
While nine in ten Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, and Catholics report putting up a Christmas tree, only seven in ten unaffiliated Americans do so. This means that while a clear majority of Americans celebrate Christmas by decorating a tree, significantly more religiously affiliated individuals do so.
But what about belief in the man who places the presents under the Christmas tree? Respondents were asked about the age at which they stopped believing in Santa Claus. Among all those who reported believing in Santa at one time in their life, we see that there are yet again some differences between those who affiliate with a religious tradition, and those who do not.
It appears that a very similar pattern exists across the Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, and Catholic religious traditions concerning the ages at which respondents report they stopped believing in Santa Claus. For the unaffiliated, however, a larger percentage report not believing in Santa Claus at an earlier age, about 4 or 5, than the Christian religious traditions.
While similar stories emerge for each of the religious traditions concerning putting up Christmas trees and the ages at which they stopped believing in Santa Claus, examining whether or not respondents ever believed in Santa Claus tells a slightly different story.
Here we find that Evangelical Protestant respondents are more similar to the unaffiliated than to the other Christian religious traditions. Small numbers of Mainline Protestants and Catholics report that they never believed in Santa Claus while over twice as many Evangelicals and unaffiliated respondents report never believing in Santa Claus.
While the unaffiliated and Evangelicals may differ on many of the religious beliefs that surround Christmas, it appears that never believing in Santa Claus may be just one case where they are more similar than different.
So no matter when you stopped believing in Santa, or if you still need to put up your Christmas tree, we at the U.S. Congregational Life Survey want to wish you all a merry Christmas, a happy holidays, and a wonderful new year.