‘Merry Christmas’ Leads as Americans’ Favorite Holiday Greeting


ST. LEO, FL – For more Americans this year, Christmas is the “merriest” of the seasons, a new Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey (http://polls.saintleo.edu) shows with more people saying they will observe the holiday, consider it a religious observance, and wish folks a “Merry Christmas.”

In the past few years, holiday polls, including Saint Leo’s, showed the number of people celebrating Christmas remained about the same or decreased slightly over time, and more people reported they view Christmas as a cultural holiday instead of a religious one.

However, in this year’s Saint Leo University poll, a large majority of Americans surveyed (88.9 percent) report they will celebrate Christmas in 2019, marking an increase from 2017’s poll when 85.2 percent of those polled said they would celebrate Christmas. As an observance, in 2019, 19.1 percent of those who say they celebrate Christmas say they view the holiday as all or mostly religious. This marks an uptick from 15.3 percent in Saint Leo’s 2017 poll. The polling institute also found that those who view Christmas as all or mostly cultural dropped from 43.1 percent in 2017 to 39.6 percent in 2019.

The most recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey was conducted from November 13 through November 18 among 1,000 total respondents nationally.

In 2017 and 2019, Saint Leo University Polling Institute respondents who say they celebrate Christmas were asked if they viewed Christmas as all cultural, mostly cultural, evenly cultural and religious, mostly religious, or all religious. Results are presented in the following table:

Cultural/Religious? National 2017 % National 2019 %
All cultural 10.2 12.9
Mostly cultural 32.9 26.7
All / mostly cultural 43.1 39.6
Evenly cultural and religious 31.3 34.6
Mostly religious 11.4 13.7
All religious 3.9 5.4
All / mostly religious 15.3 19.1
None of these 6.3 4.5
Unsure 4.0 2.1


“This is a notable reversal of recently observed trends,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, associate professor in Saint Leo’s Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology. “It is especially striking because the number of people who identify as Catholic and Christian, including evangelical Protestant, continues to decline. At the same time, religiously unaffiliated or so-called ‘nones’—which technically means anything from atheist to agnostic to ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SBNR)—continue to grow. The 1972 General Social Survey [GSS, a well-respected ongoing survey of U.S. households conducted by the National Opinion Research Center] showed just one in 20 individuals identified themselves as religiously unaffiliated in the 2018 General Social Survey almost one-quarter of the population self-identified as religiously unaffiliated.”

Greetings of the Season

Cheery salutations often are heard and received throughout the holiday season. The decline of “Merry Christmas” in some advertising has sparked controversy the past few years with calls for boycotts of Starbucks when the coffee company didn’t use traditional Christmas decorations or wording on its disposable cups in 2015.

The most recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey shows marked increases in the number of people who say “Merry Christmas” is their favored holiday greeting and a noticeable decrease in those who say “Happy Holidays” is their favored greeting.

In the poll, “Merry Christmas” moved up to the 77.6 percent as the favored holiday greeting, up from 72.3 percent in 2017 while “Happy Holidays” fell from 20.5 percent preferred in 2017 to 15.9 percent in 2019. “Season’s Greetings” comes in third in Saint Leo’s poll with 3 percent saying it is their favored salutation, which was statistically even with 2017 when 3.6 percent said they favored it.

“The phrases ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Season’s Greetings’ have been used in America for well over a century, but they rose to much greater prominence in the later 20th century, some argue, as the result of retailers and other businesses seeking to avoid offending people and being more welcoming of other faiths,” said Pugliese, the Saint Leo University associate professor of religion. “Proponents of these greetings hail them as inclusive of faiths other than Christianity in our increasingly religiously diverse and multicultural context. On the other hand, there are strong opponents of these religious-neutral greetings on the Christian right, who variously claim they are concessions to a culture of political correctness, cave-ins to consumerism and materialism, and/or symptomatic of rising secularism. In the last decade and half or so, there also has been a conservative narrative that there is a ‘war on Christmas,’ which involves efforts to remove Christian religious elements of Christmas from the media, advertising, commerce, and the public sphere in general.”

Poll respondents who say they celebrate Christmas also were asked if they find holiday greetings they receive as offensive or welcome. A large majority, 80.5 percent, say holiday greetings are either somewhat (9.2 percent) or very (71.3 percent) welcomed, while 7.9 percent say they find the greetings very or somewhat offensive.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to “bring back” the holiday greeting “Merry Christmas.” But “Merry Christmas” has not been bee used exclusively during recent history. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1955 presidential Christmas card used “Season’s Greetings,” Pugliese noted.

A closer look at the Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey shows more Republicans (89.4 percent) and conservatives (86.7 percent) say they prefer “Merry Christmas” than Democrats (71.5 percent) and liberals (68.8 percent), while more Democrats (23.4 percent) and liberals (23.9 percent) prefer “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” than Republicans (9.5 percent) and conservatives (11.9%).

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from November 13 through November 18, 2019, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 32 education centers in seven states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.