Christmas used to be so much merrier, now with data to prove it

December 19, 2013

“Where Are You Christmas?,” one of the few Christmas songs of the past 15 years to crack the holiday lexicon, is not, strictly speaking, much of a Christmas song at all. It’s wistful and world-weary and includes not a single invocation of sleigh rides or caroling. It commiserates, more or less, with the depressing adult conviction that holidays are for children and no one else.

(Pew Research Center)
(Pew Research Center)

As it turns out, Faith Hill might’ve been on to something: Most adults find that Christmas merriment has shrunk since their childhood, according to a bah-humbug-y little survey out yesterday from Pew. And that decline comes across the board: Compared to what they did as children, American adults attend fewer gatherings with family and friends, buy fewer gifts, put up fewer Christmas trees, send fewer cards and sing fewer carols. The number of adults who plan to attend a Christmas mass or service plummeted to 54 percent, from 69 percent in past generations.

None of this should be terribly surprising, of course. Religious sentiment has been falling for years, particularly among young people, who are consistently less interested in religion than their parents. To wit, 20-somethings are the least likely to attend a Christmas service — and the most likely to question that whole idea of virgin birth.

buying gifts by income


Likewise, it’s hard to get really amped about Christmas shopping when you’re worried about paying your bills, as one in five Americans still do. Christmas celebrations correlate, unsurprisingly, to income: The wealthiest shop, party and holiday-card as much as they did when they were kids; the poorest have cut back in all those categories. Compared to before the recession, we spend less money on gifts and buy fewer Christmas trees. The top complaints about the holiday season are that it’s too commercial, too materialistic and costs too much money.

That’s a gripe recently channeled — with dreadful, Grinchy cynicism — by Gawker’s Cord Jefferson in a piece titled “Childless Adults Should Not Have Christmas Trees.”

“Christmas trees are hassles. They’re expensive,” Jefferson wrote. “The ‘Christmas Spirit’ is a marketing gimmick, and Christmas trees in contemporary society are for putting presents under.”

Objectively speaking, he has a point — Christmas trees are expensive! More expensive than they’ve been in a while! But survey shows that “childless young adults: disagree with him. Eight in 10 20-somethings will put up a tree.

That’s still fewer than most remember from their childhood, though. Which perhaps explains why this season, a full 13 years after it came out, Faith Hill’s mournful “Where Are You, Christmas?” hit the No. 15 spot on Billboard’s holiday chart. A sad commentary not only on Christmas, but also, ahem, on national morale.

Happy holidays!

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Caitlin Dewey · December 18, 2013