Religious Meaning of Christmas

A new poll, published by The Children’s Society on 1 December, suggests that the religious side of Christmas is struggling to get a hearing as Britons prepare for the festive season. The survey was conducted online by GfK NOP among a representative sample of 972 UK adults aged 16 and over on 18-23 November 2010.

Asked (Q.1) what was the most important thing about Christmas, only 10% of respondents overall said that its religious meaning was paramount for them personally. There was a marked contrast by age, with the under-55s all recording less than the mean and the 55-64s (13%) and the over-65s (20%) attaching most significance to Christmas as a religious festival. Regional highs were in London (20%), the South-West (18%) and Ulster (17%), but the sub-samples were small.

Spending time with family and friends was the priority for 67%, with all other aspects barely rating a mention: having a holiday or time off work (5%), giving or receiving presents (3%), eating, drinking or partying (2%). Just 4% said that they did not celebrate Christmas at all – much the same as in YouGov’s recent study, discussed at

The proportion of one-tenth who regarded the religious meaning of Christmas as important was smaller than the number who identified Christmas as a primarily religious festival in a series of Gallup Polls between 1964 and 1998. In the late 1990s it stood at about one-fifth compared with one-half who thought the opportunity to meet family and friends and to enjoy oneself was the defining feature of Christmas. See Clive Field, ‘When a Child is Born: The Christian Dimension of Christmas in Britain since the 1960s’, Modern Believing, Vol. 40, No. 3, July 1999, pp. 29-40, especially tables 1 and 2.

However, replies to The Children’s Society’s Q.3[b], which asked whether people in general in 2010 still associated Christmas with its religious meaning, painted a somewhat rosier picture: 44% agreed with the suggestion against 46% who disagreed. Demographic variations were mostly relatively slight, apart from a concentration of ‘optimists’ in London (62%) and Ulster (53%) and among those working part-time (53%).

Other questions included in this GfK NOP poll were: Q.2 ‘How likely or unlikely are you to make cutbacks in your overall spending this Christmas?’ – 52% said likely and 34% unlikely; Q.3[a] ‘Christmas has become too commercialised’ – 86% agreed and 8% disagreed; and Q.3[c] ‘I am prepared to go into debt this Christmas so that my family enjoys and makes the most of the festive season’ – 10% agreed and 84% disagreed. It should be noted that these questions, as well as Q.3[b], were only put to those intending to celebrate Christmas.

The above post is partly based upon The Children’s Society’s press release and partly on the full unpublished data tables which the Society has very generously made available to the author, and which are quoted with its permission. The Society’s help is gratefully acknowledged. The press release will be found at:

The poll findings were published as The Children’s Society’s annual Christingle campaign commenced across the country, with the hope of raising more than £1 million to help vulnerable young people. Christingle is a custom of the Moravian Church and originated in 1747. It was introduced to the Anglican Church by The Children’s Society in 1968. Over half a million children take part in the celebration during the traditional period – November to February.

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