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New Study: Shrinking Number of Americans Believe the Birth of Jesus Based on Historical Events

12-13-2017

As some conservative commentators continue to call the public's attention to "the war on the celebration of Christmas in the U.S.," now comes word that fewer Americans believe that the New Testament account of the birth of Jesus is depicted based on actual events.

A new Pew Research Center survey says there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe the biblical elements of the Christmas story were actual historical events. The four elements they cite found in Scripture say Jesus was born to a virgin, that the wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts for baby Jesus, that Jesus' birth was heralded by an angel of the Lord and that Jesus was laid in a manger as an infant.

The new study also found a small but significant decline in the share of Christians who believe in the Christmas narrative contained in the Bible. The percentage of Christians who believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story has dipped from 81% in 2014 to 76% today. This decline has been particularly pronounced among white mainline Protestants, according to Pew.

Today, 66% of Americans say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, down from 73% in 2014. Likewise, 68% of U.S. adults now say they believe that the wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts for baby Jesus, down from 75%. And there are similar declines in the shares of Americans who believe that Jesus' birth was heralded by an angel of the Lord and that Jesus was laid in a manger as an infant.

Overall, 57% of Americans now believe in all four of these elements of the Christmas story, down from 65% in 2014.

The Pew report is based on 1,503 phone (cell and landline) interviews with adults 18 years and older living in all fifty states. Researchers conducted the interviews Nov. 29 - Dec. 4, 2017.

The survey also finds that for most U.S. adults the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized in public life less now than in the past even though fewer Americans seem to be bothered by this direction.

According to the survey, 55 percent of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, including 46% who see it as more of a religious holiday than a cultural holiday and 9% who celebrate Christmas as both a religious and a cultural occasion. In comparison, four years ago, 59% of Americans said they celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, including 51% who saw it as more religious than cultural and 7% who marked the day as both a religious and a cultural holiday.

The survey also found about half of all Americans plan to attend church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. According to Pew Research, this statistic has not changed since the question was asked back in 2013.

In addition, a declining majority of 73 percent says religious displays such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property.

And compared with five years ago, a growing number of Americans say it does not matter to them how they are greeted in stores and businesses during the holiday season – whether with "Merry Christmas" or a less-religious greeting like "Happy Holidays."

Today, 52% of the U.S. public says that a business' choice of holiday greeting does not matter to them, while roughly a third (32%) prefers for stores and businesses to greet customers with "Merry Christmas" during the holidays. When Pew asked this question over a decade ago, and then again in 2012, roughly equal shares expressed a preference for "Merry Christmas" and said it didn't matter.

 

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