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A question that was previously posed by musician Bob Geldof was, “Do they realize it’s Christmas?” In the aftermath of over three decades, the response in the United States is that people know perfectly well, but the meaning of that phrase and the way it is expressed is still evolving.

Conservatives have been sounding the alarm for years about a “war on Christmas.” In a study conducted in December 2017, nearly four in ten Americans stated they believe politicians are running a campaign to remove religion out of the holiday. This issue was championed by the outgoing President of the United States, Donald Trump. The suggestion that anyone would be trying to minimize Christmas has been met with derision from liberals, who view the whole controversy as being motivated either by sincere paranoia or cynical politics. They are correct in stating that there is no organized effort to minimize the significance of the holiday or its religious origins; nonetheless, conservatives are not reacting to anything because Christmas is becoming becoming less of a religious festival for millions of people. If there is a war on Christmas, it is making progress in what will likely be a drawn-out fight of attrition.

Even if they don’t celebrate it to the same degree as they formerly did, Americans still take great joy in Christmas. According to Gallup, in 1995, 96 percent of people celebrated the holiday; by 2019, that number had slightly dropped, to 93 percent. The way in which individuals mark it has undergone substantial transformation. The percentage of Americans who report that their Christmas festivities are “very religious” fell from 47 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2019, throughout the period from 2005 to 2019. (The percentage of people who think their celebration is “quite religious” has remained relatively unchanged over the past 14 years, increasing from 30% in 2005 to 32% in 2019). Even though a majority of people in the United States are still willing to tolerate Christmas displays on public property (at least when they are combined with Hanukkah displays), this percentage has decreased significantly since 2014. In 2014, almost three quarters of people held this view. In 2017, only two thirds of people held this view.

According to Trump, one of the most important aspects of the war on Christmas is the alleged inability of people to say “Merry Christmas.” This is due to the fact that the term has been replaced by phrases that are both more inclusive and less clearly Christian. In 2015, he made the following promise: “If I become president, we are going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store.” [Citation needed] You can disregard my request to put “Happy holidays” in the corner. And after Trump’s victory in 2016, his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski made the following proclamation: “You can once again say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ because Donald Trump is now the president.”

It would indicate that folks did not hesitate to wish one another a “Merry Christmas.” They simply did not care about it. There has been a significant shift, although not as a result of hostility but rather due to disinterest. In 2005, roughly equal portions of Americans told Pew Research that they wanted stores to say “Merry Christmas” and that they didn’t care what stores said (with another 12 percent favouring “Happy holidays” or “Season’s greetings”). Pew also asked respondents what other greetings they would prefer to hear in stores. Those statistics began to differ throughout the course of the following decade. In 2017, only 32 percent of people indicated they favoured “Merry Christmas,” while 52 percent of people said it didn’t matter which greeting retailers used.

Do you recognize the sound that I hear whenever someone wishes you a happy holiday? It is highly dependent on both the person you are chatting with and the location in which you live. In 2016, FiveThirtyEight conducted an investigation and based it on data obtained from the Public Religion Research Institute. The investigation revealed significant regional disparities. It should not come as much of a surprise that “Happy holidays” is preferred over “Merry Christmas” in generally more liberal regions such as the West and Northeast. It is not, however, the religiously conservative South that is in the vanguard of the “Merry Christmas” movement (the region is roughly split down the middle on this issue), but rather the Midwest.

Age is another factor that can affect outcomes. In contrast to the attitudes held by prior generations of Americans towards Christmas, Millennials are more inclined than previous generations to view it as a cultural rather than a religious festival. And according to a survey that was conducted by NPR, PBS Newshour, and Marist in 2018, the majority of Millennials (53%) prefer “Happy holidays,” while only 38% choose “Merry Christmas.” These tendencies all suggest to a continual secularization in celebration and vagueness in greeting, and while there have been few excellent polls that have delved into the perspectives of Generation Z, this is the case regardless.

Even if all the devout show up, it will still be a smaller gathering since religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is seeing a precipitous decline. This is the major shift that is driving these developments. Robert P. Jones, who is both the president and founder of PRRI, explained to me that the shift coincides with a rise in the number of people in the United States who self-identify as having no religious affiliation. Adherents of religions other than Christianity have hardly increased as a fraction of the population over the past half century, but unaffiliated Americans are now a large share of the population even in states that have historically been very religious. Jones noted in an email that “because of these trends, younger persons who are religiously unaffiliated are also now far more likely to marry religiously unaffiliated partners.” Therefore, it is less common for members of the younger age to have one spouse initiate the practice of bringing a religious holiday into the family home.

In 2021, as Trump was leaving office, he announced that he had won the “war on Christmas,” which he had declared during his campaign in 2020: “When I started campaigning, I said, ‘You’re going to say “Merry Christmas” again.’ And now people are saying it.” However, it appears that this is simply another instance of prematurely celebrating a triumph and making a promise that will not be kept. During the time that Donald Trump was in office, the religious aspect of Christmas lost some of its significance, and much like many of the other cultural shifts that he raged against, this one is certain to continue into the foreseeable future. Everywhere you walk, the atmosphere is starting to feel more and more like that of a joyful Christmas season.

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