December 19, 2017 | By Craig Kafura

O Christmas Tree

Christmas is a widely-celebrated holiday in the United States, and the Christmas season is in full swing. Here in Chicago the trees on Michigan Avenue are decked out with lights, buildings around the city have sprouted giant wreathes and bows, and Christmas trees can be seen in windows everywhere.

According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, nine in ten Americans (90%) will celebrate Christmas, with most Americans planning to gather with friends and family, and roughly half planning to attend religious services. The study finds that Americans are slowly shifting to viewing the Christmas holiday as more of a cultural holiday than a religious one.

Another shift in Americans’ celebration of Christmas is the Christmas tree. Though the symbol remains a popular one, Americans are changing the kind of tree they use in their homes—and a small but rising number are opting to celebrate without a tree altogether.

In 1989, a Gallup poll found that nearly nine in ten Americans (85%) planned to have a tree at home, with a plurality of Americans (45%) planning on using a real tree. Since then, the popularity of artificial trees has risen steadily. In a December 2006 CNN poll, half of Americans (53%) said they would have an artificial tree in their home this Christmas. 

But real trees still have their appeal. According to a Nielsen survey commissioned by the National Christmas Tree Association, Americans spent $2.4 billion dollars on real Christmas trees last year, 77% of which were pre-cut and 23% of which allowed Americans to put axe to wood and chop them down themselves. The trees are so popular that this year, there’s even a nationwide tree shortage.

Also notable is the slow rise of those Americans who plan to celebrate Christmas without a tree. Though only seven percent planned to do so in 1989, a CNN/ORC poll in 2014 found that nearly two in ten (18%) planned to celebrate Christmas but without a tree. Perhaps they’re hoisting a Festivus pole, or decorating with holly and berries for Saturnalia. 

Personally, I went for a small, table-sized real tree this year. 

About

Dina Smeltz joined The Chicago Council on Global Affairs in February 2012 as a senior fellow in public opinion and foreign policy, and directed the Council’s 2012 survey of American public opinion (see Foreign Policy in the New Millennium).  She has nearly 20 years of experience in designing and fielding international social, political and foreign policy surveys.

As the director of research in the Middle East and South Asia division (2001-2007) and analyst/director of the European division (1992-2004) in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department’s Office of Research, Dina conducted over a hundred surveys in these regions and regularly briefed senior government officials on key research findings. Her experience includes mass public and elite surveys as well as qualitative research.  She has written numerous policy-relevant reports on Arab, Muslim and South Asian regional attitudes toward political, economic, social and foreign policy issues.  Her writing also includes policy briefs and reports on the post-1989 political transitions in Central and Eastern Europe, and European attitudes toward a wide range foreign policy issues including globalization, European integration, immigration, NATO, and European security.

With a special emphasis research in post-conflict situations (informally referred to as a “combat pollster”), Dina has worked with research teams in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cyprus, Israel-Palestinian Territories and in Iraq (2003-2005), where she was one of the few people on the ground who could accurately report average Iraqis impressions of the postwar situation.  In the past three years, Dina has consulted for several NGOs and research organizations on projects spanning women’s development in Afghanistan, civil society in Egypt and evaluating voter education efforts in Iraq.

Dina has an MA from the University of Michigan and a BS from Pennsylvania State University.

Feel free to email Dina with comments or questions at dsmeltz@thechicagocouncil.org

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