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The Globe and Mail

We’ll be home for ‘Christmas,’ however it’s celebrated

Canadians, Americans and Britons love Christmas – not "the holiday season," but "Christmas."

Recent national surveys in the three national settings by pollster Angus Reid Global have found that 92 per cent of Brits, along with 83 per cent of Canadians and 80 per cent of Americans prefer the term "Christmas" over "holiday season" to describe this time of year.

The reason why can be seen in the answers given by the pack-leading Britons. In the land that gave us Ebenezer Scrooge, nearly nine out of 10 people in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales report that "Christmas" is first and foremost about getting together with family and friends, followed by trees, decorations, gifts and dinner. The "humbug" outlook is close to extinct.

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Yet religion is hardly driving their attachment: Only about 10 per cent of Britons worship in churches, temples, and mosques on a regular weekly basis.

The religious component does retain some significance – about 25 per cent of Britons will attend a special Christmas service, with the figure rising to more than 30 per cent in Canada and 40 per cent in the United States. And before the Christmas meal, table grace will be said in two of 10 British homes, four of 10 Canadian homes and six of 10 American homes.

But for the majority of people who celebrate it, devout or not, Christmas is about "going home" or "calling home," doing everything possible to be with those who matter most to them. I'll Be Home for Christmas is more than a holiday song – it clearly signals this anticipation of being with family and friends, taking a breather from everyday life and accentuating the positive and the happy for at least one day.

The survey results suggest that people who want to shed the term "Christmas" mistakenly think the holiday is primarily about religion. For better or worse, that's hardly been the case for some time, if it ever was. So it is that people in these multicultural countries overwhelmingly want the season to continue to be known as "Christmas."

The results also remind us that when it comes to faith, people variously value it, ignore it or find themselves in an "ambivalent middle." This results in major cultural events such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter being interpreted and enjoyed in diverse ways. In Christmas's case, the songs, activities, food and lead characters will be predictably different.

The surveys tell us that respondents in the three countries will be just as likely to be laughing at the energetic Jingle Bells as touched by the winsome Silent Night. And the variety of symbols atop our trees could provide wonderful data on diversity – more than a few angels and stars will be no doubt be replaced by Holiday Barbie ornaments!

Yet for all the variations celebrated by the religious, the non-religious and the "religiously undecided," what brings them together and elevates their lives is the fact that people who care about each other are together – "if only in their dreams" – for "Christmas."

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Reginald Bibby holds the Board of Governors Research Chair in Sociology at the University of Lethbridge and is co-author of the forthcoming book The Future of Life in Canada. Angus Reid is a Canadian sociologist, pollster, author and chairman of Vision Critical and its public-affairs division, Angus Reid Global.

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