The War on Christmas

By Lindsay Ireland


We all hear the complaints. When Starbucks decided not to distribute Christmas-themed cups, we heard them. When a proliferation of “Keep Christ in Christmas” memes, bumper stickers, Facebook posts exploded across the globe, we heard them.

“Happy holidays”, “Merry Christmas”, “Season’s greetings”: there are so greetings to choose. Many believe an increase in religious sensitivity is responsible for the recent shift in the way people address each other during the holiday season. They may even associate this with geographical location.

For example, some may believe that people in the South, which has a predominantly religious population, prefer “Merry Christmas” to other greetings during the holiday season.

Using a combination of religion census and Public Religious Research Intitute (PRRI) data, FiveThirtyEight crafted this map:


Surprisingly, the results of data analysis showed greeting preference is filtered through more of a political than a religious one. Just 30 percent of all Republicans support “happy holidays”, eight percent lower than evangelical Republicans, who would seemingly be more devout.

The Midwest, not the South, had the highest support rate for “Merry Christmas”. Disproving regional norms, the article states that black residents in the South, which make up 20 percent of the region’s population, strongly prefer “happy holidays” over another greeting regardless of how devout they are.

I think the visualization in this article fell a bit short. They offer no explanation of what the percentages on the graphic actually mean, and give different values in the written article that those displayed on the map. I also think the data analysis, which used 2010 religious census data and data from a 2013 PRRI survey, could have been more accurate if both data sourced were from the same year (though I do recognize that might not have been possible). As technology continues to advance at such a rapid rate, so does the need to address the social landscapes that are altered with it. Data journalists, like the author of this article, need to consider that when conducting analyses for the public.


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