A YouGov Poll conducted last year in 2020 shows that the majority of those who celebrate Christmas (and Easter) in the UK do so in an entirely secular way.
The survey results provide some useful evidence to support the view that religion does not play a significant role in British society, as this traditionally Christian and religious event seems now to have lost its religious meaning for the majority of people.
These findings are mainly relevant to the beliefs in society module, especially the secularisation debate.
Below I share some of the findings from this recent survey. NB the Survey looked at both Christmas and Easter, but i only report on XMAS below, ’tis the season, after all!
The Declining Significance of Religion at Christmas
According to YouGov’s sample of almost 2000 people, 61% of them celebrate Christmas in an entirely secular way.
And while 31% say they ‘combine the religious and secular’ at Christmas, if you look at what people actually do, only 20% of them go to Church with 10% reflecting on the meaning of the Birth of Christ, and there must be some kind of overlap between these, so some of those 30% above may say they mix the secular and religious, but at least some of them don’t actually do anything to express that religiosity!
I quite liked this alternative way of measuring ‘religious attitudes at Christmas’ – 71% pay no attention to what the Pope or Arch Bishop of Canterbury say at Christmas…..
Although this doesn’t necessarily measure people’s level of belief, because you can be religious and yet no believe in religious authorities, but this does show us low levels of interest in formal religious hierarchies.
TBH I’m surprised that 27% of the population do pay some attention, I expected that to be lower.
Finally, the perception people have is that Christmas is becoming less religious….
While it’s interesting to know what people think, remember that questions about perceptions don’t tell you what’s actually going on, just what people think is going on!
Sources/ Find out More
You can find out more about the results from this YouGov survey here.
Reverend Billy and The church of stop shopping are critical of our addiction to shopping – especially at Christmas. They suggest we are facing a ‘Shopocalypse’ – arguing that over consumption fuels the debt crisis, global warming and destroys local economies and communities if products are purchased from TNCs.
Instead, they suggest that we should use Christmas as a time to develop positive new low-consumption habits – learning to be happy with less! The video below – ‘What Would Jesus Buy’ is an excellent documentary outlining their ‘activist performance art’ and their general critique of consumption at Christmas.
The Church uses its performance art to protest more widely than just at Christmas – they target unethical companies, such as banks who fund logging in the Rain Forest, and target their lobbies to protest their involvement, and get arrested a lot in the process!
There’s all sorts of links with the A level Sociology syllabus:
Linking to sociological theories… the Church is coming from a broadly leftist, Marxist perspective in its criticisms of our consumption habits.
Linking to Crime and Deviance – obviously what they are doing is deviant! More interestingly, it’s interested to note how their dealt with by the state – during many of their protests, they get arrested, spend a night in jail, then they’re back out again… while the far more harmful practices of the Corporations they protest against just carry on.
These activists are protesting what they see as ‘Green Crimes’ – companies which harm the planet, but of course these acts are not defined as such by the state.
Linking to Methods – you could argue that what they are doing is a form of ‘ethnomethodology?’ (look it up, it’s not a core part of the A-level syllabus!)
Linking to the Family – Personal Life Perspective maybe?
Linking to Education – well it’s educational!
And linking to religion – I dunno, I’m a bit confused about this! Possibly nothing at all?
And don’t forget to slow down your consumption, Ahmen! Although it’s possibly too late for that…?
A 2016 poll by Nationwide found that the average Brit spends £645 on Christmas. On average, people in the UK spend…
£117 on Christmas presents for their partner,
£145 on presents for their children,
£20 on their pet (lucky pets!).
This broadly corresponds with the Bank of England’s findings on Christmas spending which found that our spending in December increasing by around £500 per month. OK they’re not exactly the same, but in the same sort of ‘region’, and not crazily different (to use the technical term).
Looked at by household – A Survey by Go Compare (1) found that the average British household expects to spend £753 on Christmas festivities this year. Collectively that’s a staggering £21 billion splashed out on presents, food and drink, parties and decorations.
Regional Variations in Spending
Unsurprisingly, households on lower incomes spend a higher proportion of their monthly income on Christmas than – According to this BBC article, people in the North East spend around 26%, while in London the figure falls to around 16% of monthly household income.
The article also cites anecdotal evidence that people in poorer areas spend more on presents than people in richer areas.
Debt and Christmas
Again, according to the above BBC article, The Money Advice Trust, a charity which runs the National Debtline, polled 2,000 people and found 37% are putting Christmas presents on credit. NB As far as I can tell these are 2015 figures (it’s not that clear from the article!)
34 percent borrowed money to cover the cost of Christmas presents – figure equating to an estimated 16.9 million people.
More than one in five (21 percent) borrowed to put food on the Christmas table – equating to an estimated 10.4 million people.
All in all, it seems like there’s a lot of evidence that for the poorest third of households, it’s not so much Christmas, but more like Debtmass, which offers broad support for the validity of a Marxist theory of Christmas.
Family, friends, gifting and food, these are the main things which people say makes ‘Christmas important to them’, at least according to a survey carried out by YouGov this time last year, on behalf of the British Humanist Association…
And less than 25% of the population seem to think religion is an important part of Christmas, at least as measured by the two questions in this particular survey (about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and attending a religious ceremony), both of which tap into whether people actually do anything ‘religiously active’ to celebrate the tradition.
Personally I’m inclined to think the results of this survey as valid, as this is an online survey (so anonymous) and people get to choose (NB the format of the above version varies slightly to how the original was administered!
The Social (Media) Construction of Christmas
Some oddball versions of the history of Christmas take it all the way back to the birth of someone called Jesus Christ, but the modern (real?) version of Christmas didn’t really start to take shape until the 19th Century….In other words Christmas is a social construction…
Goose was the popular choice for Christmas dinners for generations. Middle-class families with lots of relatives might go for a boar’s head, while the seriously rich showed off with a swan. The turkey really took off with the Victorians after Charles Dickens had Scrooge ordering a turkey in A Christmas Carol.
The mastermind behind the Christmas cracker was a London sweetshop owner called Tom Smith. In 1847, after spotting French bonbons wrapped in paper with a twist at each end, he started selling similar sweets with a “love motto” inside.
They were so popular as a Christmas novelty that Tom made them bigger and included a trinket. But the real flash of inspiration came when he poked the fire and a log exploded with a sharp CRACK! That gave him the idea for a package that went off with a bang. By 1900 he was selling 13 million a year.
The red robes, white beard, and booming ho-ho-hos we associate with Santa Clause has only existed since 1935, when this colour-combo was created Santa Claus for a Coca-Cola campaign.
In previous lives he was thinner and paler, a character based on a 4th Century Asian bishop called Nicholas, who became the patron saint of children in most of Europe. Different countries still have their own variations on the theme, but the coca-cola version has pushed them all to the cultural margins.
And personally, I can’t imagine Christmas without Christmas Movies, and especially Christmas Songs. I mean in one sense, Christmas didn’t really exist before 1986….
A Marxist Analysis of Christmas…
A broadly (read ‘simplified’) Marxist approach to Christmas would probably highlight the extent to which Christmas has been hijacked by Corporations to become hideously commercialized, with advertising basically manipulating us into spending money on shit we don’t need which puts us into debt and makes profit for Corporations.
An important part of this which links to the family is that Christmas is a key event which reproduces the norms of materialism and consumption – as kids come to expect lots of shit they don’t need. This also links very nicely (horrifically) into Toxic Childhood.
This all certainly seems to tie in with the gendered results from the BH survey above – women seem to be more involved with Christmas than men.
One final thing…. there is maybe a hint of frustration in the results of this survey from YouGov…. Is it Father Christmas, or Santa Claus? Of course men are more likely to the think the former, and women more likely the later…evidence of female frustration at the Patriarchy, or is that reading too much into it?!?
And Something Extra…
Black Lives Matter are currently calling on people to boycott a ‘white Christmas’, which basically involves not shopping with white corporations in order to divest them of money, and to invest in black shops by shopping only in them.