ST. LEO, FL – Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus as the son of God, but most Americans say they view the holiday as cultural rather than religious, a new survey released by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( shows.

The poll, conducted online November 19-24, 2017, asked 1,000 adults nationwide: “How do you view Christmas today?” Of the poll respondents, 43 percent say they think it is all or mostly cultural, while 31.3 percent say it is evenly cultural and religious. Saying they view Christmas as mostly or all religious are 15.3 percent, while 10.3 percent say they are unsure or have no opinion.

The decline in viewing Christmas as religious corresponds to a decrease in religious participation and a rise in secularism in general, said Dr. Marc Pugliese, assistant professor of religion and theology at Saint Leo University. “The reasons for these are hotly disputed,” Pugliese said. “One factor often mentioned is the distrust, even suspicion of, traditional authorities and institutions that has accelerated since the cultural revolutions of the 1960s.”

While historically many people turned to places of worship and religion to meet many of their needs, now they are turning to other sources, Pugliese explained. Others point to changing demographics including an increase in non-traditional families and growing “mixed marriages” of spouses of different religious and ethnic backgrounds to explain changes in attitudes toward Christmas and religion.

“It is important to note, though, that there is growing number of persons who identify themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious,’ with ‘religious’ referring to being affiliated with a major religious tradition,” Pugliese said. “These individuals do, however, have ‘religious’ beliefs and practices, but they are eclectic and piecemeal.”

Age appears to play a role in poll respondents’ views with younger people saying they find Christmas to be cultural (55.4 percent in the 18-35 age group; 44.6 percent in the 36-55 age group; and 33.4 percent in the 56 and older age group). More seniors say they view Christmas as mostly or all religious (19.2 percent of the 56 and older age group). In the youngest age group, 9.8 percent hold a religious view of the holiday while 14.9 percent of the 36-55 age group do the same.

“The results are also indicative of how Christmas is increasingly being viewed as more cultural than religious with each new generation,” Pugliese noted. “More baby boomers view Christmas as a religious holiday than Generation Xers, and more Generation Xers view Christmas as a religious holiday than millennials. Still, the numbers who plan to celebrate Christmas are very high across all three generations [85.2 percent]. Although they may have different views of its meaning and significance, clearly Christmas is an important holiday for all, regardless of their age.”

The Saint Leo University poll also asked those who celebrate Christmas when they think the holiday season begins. The most popular response was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, with 39.4 percent. Nearly half, 45.5 percent, say the season ends on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. This was followed by December 26 (18 percent), the week following Christmas (12.3 percent), and the feast of the Epiphany/Three Kings Day (12.3 percent).

“This high number who saw Black Friday as marking the start of the holiday season, coupled with how almost half saw the holiday season as ending on New Year’s Day also reflects the increasingly ‘cultural’ as opposed to ‘religious’ views of the holidays,” Saint Leo’s Pugliese said.

“In the Christian liturgical calendar, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Advent has traditionally been a time to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas. The Christmas season traditionally begins with the Christmas Vigil on Christmas Eve, goes through Epiphany [the celebration of the visit of the wise men], up until the feast of the baptism of the Lord.”


About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 adult approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted November 19 through November 24, 2017. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.


About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.


Media contacts:
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).