To hear politicians describe it, holiday greetings are complicated, divisive, and highly partisan. Depending on your political views, wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” is either a defiant stand against political correctness or a culturally insensitive remark that marginalizes segments of the U.S. population.

Debate over the so-called “War on Christmas” began on talk radio in 2005 and quickly grew into an annual media event – with everything from Starbucks coffee cups to elementary school concerts as lightning rods for controversy. Saying “Happy Holidays” has been characterized as either a thoughtful multicultural gesture or a liberal assault on Christianity. Donald Trump has vowed repeatedly that under his administration, “We are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

But there’s an interesting twist to the culture war that partisan commentators narrate each winter…  Most Americans are actually on the same page when it comes to Christmas.

We surveyed 2,000 U.S. residents from all across the country to see how people with different political views celebrate the holidays. Is Christmas really under attack? Not according to our respondents. While there are subtle differences between Republicans and Democrats, our study suggests the Christmas spirit is doing just fine in the U.S.

Not-so-mixed Holiday Messages

Although fewer people mail holiday cards in the digital age, the U.S. Postal Service still expects to deliver 3 billion pieces of First Class mail during the week of Dec. 18-24, with holiday cards making up a large portion of that total. About 60.1% of our survey participants sent cards last year. When we asked them what the primary message was, the results were decisive. “Merry Christmas” accounted for 60.4% of all cards. “Happy Holidays” was a distant second, with 27.9%.

Republicans and Democrats Both Wish You a Merry Christmas

The overwhelming majority of our survey respondents (95.7%) said they celebrate Christmas, although many have friends or acquaintances of different faiths. That is similar to a National Retail Federation survey that found that for every 1 American who celebrates Hanukkah, there are 14 who celebrate Christmas. For Kwanzaa, the ratio is 1 to 49.

When we reviewed their greeting card messages, we found that Republicans were significantly more likely to choose cards that say “Merry Christmas” than Democrats, but “Merry Christmas” was still the most popular message for both groups.


Tubs and Tubs of Holiday Memories

Whether you start your decorating before or after Thanksgiving, the first true sign of the season for many Americans is the annual ritual of dragging large plastic tubs of holiday decor from closets, garages, basements, attics, or storage units. Many of these ubiquitous 30-gallon storage bins contain not only lights and ornaments, but treasured mementos passed down from older generations. Chances are, the more elaborate your holiday decor is each year, the more of these plastic totes you have…

We showed our survey respondents a picture and asked them to estimate how many storage tubs their collection of holiday decor would fill. Again, we were surprised to find that although Republicans have slightly more, there wasn’t much difference between the accumulated holiday decor of Americans from different political poles.

How Many Hours Does it Take to Make Holiday Magic?

The magic of Christmas doesn’t happen without effort. From untangling extension cords and stringing lights to getting the tree perfectly straight, it takes time and energy to deck the halls. But how much time?

We asked 2,000 Americans across the country how many hours they typically spend decorating for the winter holidays. There are weekend warriors on both ends of the political spectrum who spend more than 6 hours festooning their homes, but most people spend substantially less.  When we broke it down by political party, we found that Republicans spend an average of 3.5 hours decorating their homes for the holidays. Democrats spend about 2.7 hours.

That total does not account for decorating mishaps. Whatever your political views, it’s important to take care while perching on ladders and hanging decor. The nation’s emergency rooms see as many as 15,000 holiday decorating-related injuries each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Seasonal Spending Habits

Americans plan to spend an average of $983 on holiday gifts this year, according to the American Research Group. But that doesn’t include dollars spent putting their holiday spirit on display with seasonal decorations. We wondered how much Americans spend on new holiday decor each year, and whether it differs by political party.

There is a good reason why big box stores like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s set aside so much prime floor space for holiday decor and supplies. About 1 in 3 Americans feel they don’t have enough holiday decor, and most plan to spend upwards of $50 this year to buy more. Among our survey respondents, Republicans planned to outspend Democrats by $94 to $76. However both groups expected to invest in buying more holiday decorations.

Which Holiday Trend is Tackiest?

When it comes to holiday decor, the line between festive and tacky can be a fine one. Are 12-foot-tall inflatable snowmen dreadful or delightful? Are reindeer holiday sweaters charming or cringeworthy? We asked our survey participants and found some interesting points of agreement, and a few differences of opinion.

Inflatable ornaments have blown up over the past decade, with air-filled Santas, Snoopys, Grinches, Minions, Mickey Mouses, and other creatures gracing front yards from coast to coast. Unfortunately for those who love them, the appeal is not universal. Nearly 43% of Republicans and Democrats think inflatable lawn decorations are gaudy. If you want to create a holiday scene on your lawn, you’re better off with lighted wire sculptures. Only about 15% of our respondents object to those. And go ahead and make an all-pink, plaid, or Disney-themed tree. The overwhelming majority of our respondents said designer trees are fine.

What about holiday sweaters with comically large characters and pom poms, bells, or felt appliqués? Ugly Christmas sweater contests and parties have been growing in popularity since the early 2000s. Kitschy pullovers that used to be the domain of Aunt Edith or your elementary school teacher have become increasingly acceptable garb among Millennials. But is that enough to make up for the obnoxious colors and boxy shapes? Republicans are more likely to give holiday sweaters an unconditional thumbs down, with 43.1% saying they’re hopelessly tacky. Democrats were a little less harsh, with only 34.3% condemning them. 

Holiday Hang-Ups that Drive Us Nuts

As wonderful as the holidays are, they aren’t completely without annoyances and irritations. From crowded stores and parking lots to awkward office parties and inconsiderate house guests, it can be a stressful time for many. The holidays can also put a strain on our relationships with neighbors.

We asked 2,000 Americans what annoys them most about the holidays in their neighborhoods and found that Republicans and Democrats get irritated by slightly different things. The biggest irritants for Republicans were neighbors keeping their decorations up too long or having tacky decor. Democrats found loud parties and fireworks most annoying. 

To reduce holiday stress, experts recommend managing your expectations, setting aside time for personal care, asking for help, and practicing gratitude. If your neighbor’s decorations are still up past mid-January, offer to help take them down.

A Tree-mendous Trend

Americans bought 46 million Christmas trees in 2016 – including 27.4 million real trees and 18.6 million artificial ones. That was a significant increase over 2015 when 38.4 million trees were sold – including 25.9 million real trees and 12.5 million artificial ones.

What’s behind the nearly 20 percent year-over-year jump in tree sales? One answer might be the growing trend of families putting multiple trees in their homes. Inspired by Pinterest and home decorating magazines, many people are putting trees in different areas of their homes including children’s rooms and dining rooms.

That got us wondering whether there are more multi-tree households among Republicans or Democrats. The answer is: Republicans. Among our survey respondents, Democrats averaged 1.35 trees per household. Republicans averaged 1.6 trees.

Hope for Harmonious Holidays

By many measures, Americans are more divided than ever with seemingly insurmountable political differences paralyzing our government institutions. But contrary to what many pundits would have us believe, the holidays are not a big point of controversy among average Americans. Most Americans celebrate Christmas, wish their friends and neighbors glad tidings, decorate their homes, and enjoy the season. There are subtle differences between Republicans and Democrats, but they are fairly minor. So go ahead and turn off political talk shows during the month of December and get together with people of different views. If you talk about holiday sweaters, ornament storage, and tacky decorations, you’re likely to find common ground.


We conducted an online survey of 2,006 people. Respondents came from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Respondents ranged in age from 20 to 75. They were 53.8% women and 46.2% men. The sample was fairly evenly divided between homeowners (54.9%) and renters (42.7%), with the remaining 2.5% mostly living with family members. They included married couples (42.7%), single people (29.3%), and those in relationships (21.8%). About half were parents (48%).

We had coverage across all political affiliations, with 41.12% Democrat, 21.63% Republican, 14.34% Independent (lean conservative), 17.66% Independent (lean liberal), 2.63% Libertarian, 0.60% Green, and 2.03 self-reporting as "Other."

Fair Use

If you’re a journalist or blogger interested in covering this project, feel free to use any of the images or graphics found on this page. All we ask is that you kindly attribute and link back to this page so your readers can learn more about our study.

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