A 2017 Pew Research center poll found that 44% of Americans believe Christmas is “More of a Religious Holiday than a Cultural One.” This number has fallen recently, with cultural shifts creating a new meaning to Christmas.
Christmas, rooted in the Biblical story of Christ’s birth, has gradually become more secular. A 2010 Gallup News poll found that 93% of Americans gather with family and exchange gifts for Christmas, whereas 62% attend a religious event. Although still a majority, the inherently secular aspects of Christmas, such as trees, gifts, and time with family has taken precedence over going to church amongst Americans.
A Gallup poll from 2019 shows that the percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas as a “Strongly Religious” holiday has fallen from 50% to 35%.
Celebration of Christmas in schools has remained a hot topic. Pew reports that 37% of Americans believe that Christmas displays should be allowed by themselves on government property, 29% think that Christmas displays should be allowed only if accompanied by other religious displays, and 26% believe that no Christmas displays should be allowed at all.
Companies have debated on whether to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. Pew Research reports that Americans truly don’t care. Although narratives such as “The War on Christmas” have been introduced, the percentage of Americans who believe it doesn’t matter how they are greeted at a store has grown to a majority, according to the 2017 Pew poll.
The word “holiday” has a simple origin – a combination of “holy” and “day.” The word originally referred to the Sabbath, a Biblical day of relaxation. It took on the meaning of any break from work or celebration in the 14th century. It wasn’t until 1937 that its use as an alternative to Christmas was conceived. The creator was Camel Cigarettes. Santa Claus is plastered on the advertisement, donning his signature red coat and white beard. This image of Santa was created by Coca Cola for an ad of their own in 1931.
Corporations have not hijacked Christmas. They have instead introduced a new style of Christmas. This brand of Christmas prioritizes the general feeling of “holiday,” a bonding of family and most importantly a spending spree. As Christmas spending rose, Cyber Monday’s advent was soon to follow. Black Friday has grown to be weeks long. Every other television ad describes holiday shopping. This corporate Christmas, as shown through Gallup and Pew polls, has grown.
When asked, 19 out of 20 students around Webster Groves High School said it is “Okay to play songs with the word ‘Christmas.’” Of five teachers questioned on this matter, all five also answered, “Yes.” One teacher said that they, “would play any music of any request, not just Christmas music.” Another teacher argued, “Music is art… it’s art first and then it’s categorized.” Much of the most popular Christmas music falls into the more corporate definition of Christmas. While songs like “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” retain their religious roots, a vast array of secular songs such as, “Jingle Bells,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “White Christmas” have overtaken the Christmas radio repertoire.
Christmas is as religious as one makes it. In a school, a version of Christmas should be allowed, just like a version of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and any of the winter festivals that take place across the world. In the corporate world, a Christmas song, Christmas colors or Christmas lights are much less religious than the pledge to “One nation under God” that is played over the intercom each morning.
Holiday spirit is alive, and in the weeks of preparing for EOC and final exams everyone could use a bit of holiday joy. The joy found in school could be made from the popular, familial definition of the holidays and Christmas, not the religious one; there is no holiday joy in blank walls and quiet classrooms.
This will be Joe Harned’s first year on ECHO Staff. He also made several contributions while taking journalism class his freshman year.