A new poll seems to have settled the “war on Christmas” argument, for now, finding that more people prefer saying “merry Christmas” than “happy holidays.”
The findings are from Saint Leo University, a private Roman Catholic school in Florida, which in November, polled more than 1,000 people nationwide on religion and culture. Among the results, “merry Christmas” was the preferred greeting for 77.6 percent of respondents (an increase from 72.3 percent in 2017), “happy holidays” resonated with 15.9 percent (a fall from 20.5 percent in 2017). Trailing behind was “season’s greetings,” popular among 3 percent of respondents (from 3.6 in 2017).
Overall, Republicans and conservatives favor “merry Christmas” compared to Democrats and liberals, who lean toward “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings.”
Each December, the “merry Christmas or happy holidays” question asks which greeting is politically correct, considering December celebrations like Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Marc Pugliese, PhD, associate professor of theology and religion, said in a university press release that while “happy holidays” has been used for more than 100 years, corporate advertising began using the phrase to appeal to a broader market.
“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,” he said. “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.”
According to the New York Times, controversy from a 2005 book called The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought stoked the fire with promotion from Fox News. And 2015 saw “Cup-gate” after Starbucks removed reindeer and Christmas tree symbols from its holiday cup to “create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.”
In 2016, President Donald Trump said at a Wisconsin rally, “When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here someday and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again. Merry Christmas. So, merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but merry Christmas.”
And during a Fox News interview this month with Eric and Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law claimed, “You can say ‘merry Christmas’ again. Isn’t that so nice....” when prompted by interviewer Jeanine Pirro.
The war wages on at home and at school. In 2018, an Idaho man won a $75,000 lawsuit against his homeowner’s association which protested his Christmas decorations reportedly to not offend his neighbors of other faiths. And last year, a Nebraska elementary school principal reportedly left her job after banning candy canes because "historically, the shape is a 'J' for Jesus."
A YouGov poll from December 2018 showed that 42 percent of Americans believe that “no other religion has their religious holidays attacked or persecuted to the same extent Christians do” with 50 percent of people aged 55 and older more likely to believe it (millennials were divided on the statement). And 39 percent of people believe in the “war on Christmas.”
However, in December 2016, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the former executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the New York Times that the debate is comprised of “stories that only sometimes even contain a grain of truth and often are completely false.”
“This politicizing of the whole issue is mind-boggling to me,” Lynn continued, “and it has been for well over a decade” adding, “They see this as some kind of a politically correct effort, but I see it as reasonable to not use Christmas references as just an accommodation of the reality of America.”
But maybe the issue will be temporarily laid to rest — at least at the dinner table. Another poll sent to Yahoo Lifestyle by Saint Leo University showed that most people planned to avoid controversial political topics at holiday gatherings, even if it means declining invitations. However, millennials appeared more willing to broach the topics.
In the poll’s press release, Christopher Wolfe, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo encouraged parents and grandparents to keep an open mind when young people talk politics. “When we fail to listen, understand, and respect the views of our loved ones—even those we vehemently disagree with,” he said, “we only gain a holiday table surrounded by empty chairs.”
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