‘Merry Christmas’ remains preferred greeting, while eggnog receives nod for taste

ST. LEO, FL – While many Americans say fruitcake is a “yuck,” a new Saint Leo University Polling Institute (polls.saintleo.edu) survey shows they give a thumbs up to eggnog, wishing others a “Merry Christmas,” and displaying “real” Christmas trees.

The poll took a look at popular Christmas flavors, traditions, and seasonal greetings. Polling was conducted online October 17-23, among 1,000 total respondents nationally. The resulting margin of error for the results is 3.0 percentage points in either direction. In Florida, where Saint Leo’s residential campus is located, 500 additional people were polled. The margin of error for the responses is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Most Americans surveyed, 79.5 percent, say they plan to celebrate Christmas in 2021, which is down from 88.9 percent in 2019. In Florida, where the university and the polling institute are based, 82 percent of the 500 polled say they will celebrate Christmas this year.

While there has been controversy about holiday greetings in recent years, the new Saint Leo poll shows that the preferred salutation remains “Merry Christmas” (73.5 percent nationally and 79.5 percent in Florida). Next is “Happy Holidays” at 18.7 percent nationally and 18.5 percent in Florida, and “Season’s Greetings” follows in third place at 4.5 percent among those polled nationally and 3.7 percent among those polled in Florida. Those who say “none of these” came in at 1.1 percent nationally and 1.2 percent in Florida.

Results are displayed in the following table for the three greetings measured.

Favorite Greeting? National 2017 – % Florida 2017 – % National 2019 – % Florida   2019 – % National 2021 – % Florida 2021 – %
Merry Christmas 72.3 75.7 77.6 77.4 73.5 75.9
Happy Holidays 20.5 18.3 15.9 17.9 18.7 18.5
Season’s Greetings 3.6 3.8 3.0 4.0 4.5 3.7
None of these 1.1 0.5 1.2 0.4 1.1 1.2
Other 0.7 1.0 0.7 0.4 0.5 0.2
Unsure 1.8 0.7 1.6 1.6 0.5


All respondents who celebrate Christmas also were asked if they found holiday greetings they received as very offensive, somewhat offensive, somewhat welcomed, or very welcomed.  Results are shown in the following table.

A large majority, 78.9 percent (down slightly from 80.5 percent in 2019) suggested holiday greetings are either somewhat (10.7 percent) or very (68.2 percent) welcomed.

Views on Holiday Greetings Received National 2017 – % Florida 2017 – % National 2019 – % Florida 2019 – % National 2021 – % Florida 2021 – %
Very offensive 3.3 2.1 3.9 4.5 6.3 7.3
Somewhat offensive 2.5 2.1 3.9 3.6 6.2 5.1
Total:  Very and somewhat offensive 5.8 4.2 7.9 8.1 12.5 12.4
Somewhat welcomed 14.9 12.4 9.2 9.6 10.7 11.0
Very welcomed 67.0 75.0 71.3 72.0 68.2 66.3
Total:  Somewhat and very welcomed 81.9 87.4 80.5 81.6 78.9 77.3


“We’ve seen a drop in the percentage whose preferred holiday greeting is ‘Merry Christmas’ [73.5 percent]) from our fall 2019 poll [77.6 percent], which at the time was an increase over 2017 [75.7 percent],” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, associate dean of Saint Leo’s College of Arts and Sciences. “There was much commentary during the Trump administration that said the president had revitalized the notion that there is a ‘war on Christmas’ and contributed to an increase in popular concern to preserve the traditional ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting. “Unsurprisingly, surveys consistently report that more conservatives express taking offense over more generic ‘Happy Holidays’ greetings instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ and more social liberals/ progressives take offense at ‘Merry Christmas’ being used instead of ‘Happy Holidays.’”

Still, the Saint Leo surveys find those who are offended are in a minority of the overall population.

A popular social media meme suggests that being thankful that someone took the time to say something nice may be the best holiday greeting of all.

Dreaded fruitcake

The holiday season conjures up memories made with family and friends—some of them good and some of them not so great.

Saint Leo University asked poll respondents to give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” on a few traditional holiday items and traditions such as eating or gifting fruitcake, displaying a non-artificial Christmas tree, hanging mistletoe (and kissing underneath it), and roasting chestnuts—as in the traditional “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” made popular by Nat King Cole.

Fruitcake is the big loser in the poll with 55.8 percent saying they would give it a thumbs down. By contrast, poll respondents show a clear preference for having a live or “real” tree (which are in short supply this year), at 65.9 percent.

National Results Thumbs Up – % Thumbs Down – % Unsure – %
Fruitcake 39.2 55.8 4.9
Real Christmas tree (not artificial) 65.9 26.2 7.9
Mistletoe 64.8 22.9 12.6
Roasting chestnuts 38.5 42.0 19.5


Florida Results Thumbs Up – % Thumbs Down – % Unsure – %
Fruitcake 42.0 53.4 4.6
Real Christmas tree (not artificial) 69.8 23.2 7.1
Mistletoe 57.6 25.9 16.6
Roasting chestnuts 39.5 44.9 15.6


“Personally, I hate fruit cake, but it does bring back fond memories for me,” said Justin Bush, director of Dining Services for Saint Leo University and an executive chef. “Every year, my grandmother and I would bake fruit cakes to give away as Christmas favors. She loved fruit cake! Me, not so much! I think fruit cake is definitely an acquired taste for many.”

Favorite flavors

While visions of sugar plums may be dancing in children’s heads during the Christmas season, the recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey asked adults which holiday flavors stand out.

Among national poll respondents, the favorite flavor is eggnog at 20.3 percent; followed by gingerbread at 19.2 percent, peppermint at 15.8 percent, and pumpkin spice coming in last at 12.5 percent. Nearly as many people say they cannot decide, though.

The following table displays the results as collected:

Favorite Holiday Flavors/Traditions National 2021 – % Florida 2021 – %
Gingerbread 19.2 15.9
Peppermint 15.8 19.5
Eggnog 20.3 25.6
Pumpkin Spice 12.5 10.7
None of these 15.3 13.4
All of these, or can’t pick a favorite 15.3 13.9
Unsure 1.5 1.0


“My favorite winter flavor would definitely be peppermint,” said Bush, Saint Leo’s director of Dining Services. “It reminds me of the crisp, cool air of Christmastime. The runner-up would be gingerbread for me, but I love to eat the old-fashioned ginger snap cookies all year long. During the holiday season, Saint Leo’s Dining Services definitely incorporates festive flavors in our dessert offerings and many of our hot beverages. Benedict’s Coffeehouse is currently offering peppermint and sugar cookie flavors for the Christmas season.”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from October 17, 2021, through October 23, 2021, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.

The statewide survey was also conducted during the same time period, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 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) 588-8237.   

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering 57 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 18,200 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, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 98,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.