'Merry Christmas' greeting? Half of Americans don't care, survey says

Many surveyed agreed that the religious aspects of Christmas are not as prominent in American culture as in the past, but very few were bothered by this. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (WASHINGTON) - As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump complained that the greeting "Merry Christmas" had fallen out of vogue. People would be saying it again once he took office, he promised.

And you would hear the greeting more in department stores, too. He has said that repeatedly since occupying the Oval Office. "You're going to be saying 'Merry Christmas' again," he pledged during a speech to the Heritage Foundation on Oct 17.

But the President's enthusiasm for the greeting is not as widely shared as he may think.

"Today, fully half of the US public (52 per cent) says a business' choice of holiday greeting does not matter to them," according results of a survey released on Tuesday (Dec 12) by the Pew Research Centre.

In other words, "Merry Christmas" is fine, but "Happy holidays" will do.

Many surveyed agreed that the religious aspects of Christmas are not as prominent in American culture as in the past, but very few were bothered by this. Nine in 10 adults said they celebrate Christmas in some way.

The survey was conducted by telephone a few weeks ago, "among a representative sample" of 1,503 adults nationwide, Pew said.

Among other notable findings:

Fifty-five per cent of American adults said they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, down from 59 per cent in 2013, and;

The number of Americans who believe no religious displays, such as nativity scenes, should be permitted on government property, has grown from 20 per cent to 26 per cent since 2014.

When it comes to the biblical story of Jesus' birth, fewer Americans see it as historically accurate, though the number remains significant:

Sixty-six per cent of Americans believe Jesus was born to a virgin, compared to 73 per cent in 2014;

Sixty-eight per cent say wise men, guided by a star, brought gifts for the infant Jesus, compared to 75 per cent in 2014;

Seventy-five per cent believe baby Jesus was laid in a manger, compared to 81 per cent in 2014, and;

Sixty-seven per cent believe an angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, compared to 74 per cent in 2014.

Three-quarters of Republicans believe in those four parts of the Christmas narrative, the survey said, compared to 47 per cent of Democrats.

The accounts of Jesus' birth are found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and they differ. While an increasing number of Americans doubt some of the historical details, it does not mean they doubt their theological truth.

Pew said "nones" - people who identify as atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular" - recorded the sharpest decline in belief in the nativity narratives.

Despite the changes in attitudes, Trump's push for "Merry Christmas", plays well with his political base.

"About half of those who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party express a preference for hearing 'Merry Christmas' from stores and businesses," the survey said.

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