Seasonal Good Intentions

One-quarter of Britons expect to attend a church service over the Christmas period this year, according to a YouGov poll on Christmas commissioned by The Sun newspaper and published in today’s issue under the heading of ‘We’re Dreaming of a Tight Christmas’.

A representative sample of 1,723 adults aged 18 and over was interviewed online on 27-28 November 2011. The full data tables, with breaks by demographics, have been made available at:

While 65% do not think they will go to a church service over Christmas, 24% do, broken down into 6% who said they might worship on Christmas Day itself (a Sunday this year), 11% on Christmas Eve, and 7% on another Day around Christmas.

The proportion of putative attenders was identical to a YouGov poll a fortnight before last Christmas. It has varied somewhat since the question was first asked in British public opinion polls in 1964, sometimes reaching two-fifths (albeit not recently).

However, these intentions will often prove aspirational, not translated into reality. Unfortunately, it is hard to know what actually happens since the Church of England is the only major body to collect Christmas attendance data, and then just since 2000.

In an article in the Church of England Newspaper for 11 November 2011, Peter Brierley estimated that the Church of England accounts for 40% of Christmas attendance, rather than its more usual share of 28%. On this basis, he forecast that 11% of the entire population of the UK could be at church this Christmas.

The highest rate of anticipated Christmas churchgoing was found by YouGov among Londoners (35%) and the lowest among manual grades (18%, against 28% for ABC1s), but otherwise there was little variation by sub-group (from 20% to 26%).

Other highlights from this YouGov poll include:

  • 36% anticipated spending less on Christmas presents than last year, 49% about the same, and 10% somewhat more
  • 4% will be spending Christmas Day on their own, 51% with their spouse or partner, 44% with their children, 36% with their parents, and 21% with their siblings
  • 44% will definitely or probably watch the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day
  • 58% will log on to the Internet on Christmas Day (mostly to check email or Facebook)
  • 29% do not find Christmas stressful at all, but 30% get anxious about its cost, 20% about gift-shopping, and 7% about spending time with extended family
  • 25% expected to have a hangover some time over the Christmas period

Meanwhile, a separate TNS survey, carried out online between 29 November and 1 December 2011, has revealed that 21% of a sample of 1,064 adult Britons aged 16-64 plan to go to a carol service this month.

The proportion was higher for women (25%) than men (18%), ABC1s (26%) than C2DEs (14%), parents with children resident in the household (28%) than those without (18%), and for those who were not working (25%) than in employment (19%).

It also increased with age, from 14% among the 16-24s to 27% among the over-55s. Regionally, Scots (16%) and Londoners (13%) were least likely to attend a carol service, with Wales and Western England (29%) and the North-West (25%) scoring highest.

Data tables for the TNS poll are available at:

Finally, for now (there will doubtless be other religion-related Christmas polls over the next few weeks), we may note a Christmas survey published by Theos, the think-tank, on 1 December, and based upon online interviews by ComRes with 2.032 adults aged 18 and over on 7-9 October 2011.

Respondents were asked to react to six statements about the meaning of Christmas. One of these was that ‘Christmas is about celebrating that God loves humanity’. 41% agreed with the proposition, 24% disagreed, and 35% were neutral.

Agreement increased with age, from 30% of the 18-24s to 52% of the over-65s. It was greater among women (45%) than men (37%), and public sector workers (42%) than in the private sector (36%). Unsurprisingly, it was much higher among Christians (58%) than those without any religion (12%).

The level of agreement with this statement was much less than the 83% who thought Christmas was about spending time with family and friends, and the 62% who believed it was about being generous to people less fortunate than ourselves.

40% contended that Christmas is a good excuse for taking time off but does not really have any meaning today. Just 19% saw the festival as an opportunity to challenge political oppression around the world and 34% poverty and economic injustice.

The data tables for the ComRes study, undertaken in conjunction with the launch of a new Theos report on The Politics of Christmas by Stephen Holmes (ISBN 978-0-9562182-7-8, £5), can be found at:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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3 Responses to Seasonal Good Intentions

  1. Pingback: UK Christmas Church Service Attendance Statistics | eChurch Blog

  2. Pingback: Xmas - hate it, hate it, hate it. - Page 5

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