This Christmas, lay out the welcome mat

Published December 10, 2015

Year in and out, it seems, Canadians get bombarded with the same kind of news about Christmas. By now, these headlines have become as familiar as a Christmas music loop, and they simply switch depending on the state of the nation’s economy: Canadians plan to spend less on gifts this Christmas…Canadians set to spend more on holidays.

A slight variation to what is also becoming an annual news tradition in the 21st century is a debate about whether Canadians prefer saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” (Since 2011, surveys have shown Canadians to be firmly on the Merry Christmas side.)

For the last two years, however, sociologist Reginald Bibby and the Angus Reid Institute have been sharing a different kind of news about Christmas-although this one hasn’t exactly gone mainstream. It is the kind of news that offers a lot of promise and hope for those who pine for a time when Christmas was not an orgy of consumerism, but a simple, yet glorious, celebration of the incarnation of Christ.

In 2013, Bibby and Angus Reid conducted an online survey of 1,508 Canadians and discovered that “at Christmas time, 14% of Canadians who worship fairly regularly will find themselves sharing the pews with another 18% who normally are somewhere else.” This suggests, they say, that 32% of Canadians went to church at Christmas in 2013. The survey also showed that Canadians-Christians and non-Christians alike -value “the idea of Christmas” because it allows them to spend special time with their loved ones.

Bibby and Angus Reid conducted an iteration of the 2013 survey the following year, and much to their surprise, found there was an increase in numbers. In 2014, 18% of regular churchgoers were joined by an even higher number of infrequent adherents (19%).

This was an indication, the survey notes, that “the size of the Christmas pool is growing, not decreasing.” The “Christmas Only” attendees outnumbered regular churchgoers in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic, notes the survey.

Other interesting findings: they are just as likely to be male as female. They represent various age groups, an indication that “many younger Canadians have not abandoned religious groups.”

The 2014 survey also discovered that “in addition to the predictable features of Christmas: family and friends, fun and faith,” Canadians view this season as a “time for personal reflection about where life is and where it is going.”

In other words, contrary to conventional wisdom-Easter-and-Christmas Christians (as they are sometimes referred to, and not always kindly, by more observant Christians) do not see Christmas merely as a warm, fuzzy family tradition and cultural heritage that must be upheld once a year. Rather, it is also an occasion to quietly examine one’s interior life. While this may not necessarily translate into nominal adherents all of a sudden becoming devout, regular churchgoers, it does point to a desire to live a life with meaning. It is a good place to start.

The results of this survey offer a challenge and an opportunity for churches, notes Bibby. “This is hardly a time for leaders to respond by chastising people for packing worship places only once a year,” he says. “In sharp contrast to such debilitating morbidity, the presence of the much-maligned Christmas crowd should serve as a reminder of the existence of remarkable opportunity and need-and the urgency for life-giving responses on the part of the nation’s religious groups.”

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From everyone at the Anglican Journal, we wish you a Merry Christmas. We would like to also take this occasion to thank you for helping us celebrate our 140th anniversary with your generous donation to the annual Anglican Journal Appeal.

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