Five Percent of Americans Celebrate No December Holiday

December 23, 2013

Yes, I know that quite a few secular humanists and other freethinkers celebrate the Solstice, HumanLight, Newton's Birthday, or even a bowdlerized form of Christmas this time of year. Even so, a new PRRI/RNS survey (click the link at bottom) indicates that the number of Americans who tell pollsters that they celebrate no holiday in December has reached 5 percent. 5 percent? That's more than double the usual figure for the size of the American Jewish community (2.2 percent). Who knows, this year that figure may include a large number of American Jews, given that Hanukkah unfolded mostly in November.

The survey did not indicate how many of the noncelebrants were also nonreligious, but I can't help thinking that a significant number of them must be atheists or seculars.

Think about this. Decades ago, the American Jewish community, which then comprised perhaps 3 or 4 percent of the population, was able to compel the shift from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" simply out of respect for Hanukkah. Today the nation is more diverse, and "Happy Holidays" also allows for folks who celebrate Kwanzaa, Diwali, Festivus, and (in some years) one or another Islamic Eid. The group that "Happy Holidays" disregards is, of course, those who aren't celebrating anything this time of year. Many who celebrate nothing this month presumably find it annoying, even disrespectful, when others share a greeting that casually assumes that everyone is celebrating something as year's end draws near.

With 5 percent of Americans not celebrating anything, maybe it's time to take that next step past "Happy Holidays," and recognize that not everybody has any holiday to celebrate during this so-called festive season. 


#1 Mark W. on Tuesday December 24, 2013 at 9:43am

Why get excited about people not celebrating December holidays? Keep in mind that there are millions of Christians in the US do not celebrate holidays traditionally associated with Christianity: the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the US account for about 2 million of that 5%. Additionally, a religious context for holidays is about as necessary a religious context for days of the week. (keeping the Wotan in Wednesday tomorrow?) I’ll keep all of this in mind when I celebrate New Year’s Eve (on December 31).

#2 Tom Flynn (Guest) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 at 11:19am

Mark,it’s an exciting development because there’s a widespread assumption, even among secularists, that observing no holiday during the “helladay season” is a rare choice. This data suggests otherwise. Even allowing for the Witnesses, and the Adventists, and maybe even the Jews (Hanukkah fell mostly in November this year), there’s room in that 5 percent for way more secular noncelebrators than most people allow for. As a noncelebrator since 1984, I find that fairly exciting!—Tom Flynn

#3 Ronald A. Lindsay on Thursday December 26, 2013 at 6:20am

Tom, “Happy Holidays” encompasses New Year’s Day, which I daresay 99.9% of secularists observe—even though, if you want to push it, you could argue it has a religious connection, as it’s based on the Gregorian calendar (the Jewish New Year, the Hindu New Year and the Islamic New Year are not Jan. 1)
And speaking of that religious connection, do you observe Jan 1 as a holiday? If so, given your principles you may want to rethink that

#4 Tom Flynn (Guest) on Thursday December 26, 2013 at 7:40am

Hi Ron,

You’ve noticed an ambiguity that’s rooted in the survey I was writing about, which speaks expansively about “December holidays” but when you look at the actual questions (see

#5 Tom Flynn (Guest) on Thursday December 26, 2013 at 7:46am

Oops, it won’t let me post a URL. Well, go to the study’s announcement page (the link at the bottom of the original blog text) and choose “View Topline Questionnaire.” You’ll see that despite the language about “holidays in December,” the study actually asked only about Christmas, Hanukkah, Advent(!), Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, or another holiday. (Never mind that this year most of Hanukkah fell in November.) New Year’s wasn’t even on the list. Did the researchers consider it not a December holiday because it wraps around into January? Was this an error on their part? I have no idea.

Anyway, despite my muffled distaste for the Roman god Janus, I consider New Year’s a secular observance and plan to observe it as I do Memorial Day or the 4th of July. (Which is not to suggest that I typically celebrate Memorial Day with noisemakers and funny hats.)

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