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Dadline: Some Christmas traditions fading away

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300 dpi Charles Bloom color illustration of carolers with holiday songbooks. The Kansas City Star 2007

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People don’t celebrate Christmas like they used to.

Sure, they buy presents, spend time with family and still mark the holiday. But they don’t send cards, put up trees, go caroling, bake cookies, go to church or keep other traditions like they used to.

In 2013, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey that showed that when it comes to Christmas, the yuletide is turning. To be sure, more than 90 percent of Americans surveyed celebrate Christmas. That includes 80 percent of non-Christians, who observe it as a cultural, rather than a religious, holiday.

So, Christmas is still as popular as ever. It’s just that today’s grown-ups don’t celebrate it the way they did when they were kids.

For example, according to the 2013 survey, 79 percent of respondents said that they planned to put up a Christmas tree, compared with 92 percent who said that they always had a tree when they were children.

Other traditions saw similar declines in popularity. Eighty-one percent remembered their family sending cards when they were kids, but only 65 percent planned to do so themselves. Thirty-six percent went caroling as kids, but only 16 percent in 2013. Sixty-nine percent attended Christmas Eve or Christmas Day church services with their families, but that number had fallen to 54 percent when they were adults.

One part of the holidays that has changed little over the years is the significance of spending time with family and giving presents. Nearly 90 percent of the survey respondents said they planned to do both in 2013.

So, why have some Christmas traditions decreased in popularity? America is a country of many religious cultures and creeds, so it’s obvious that some people don’t celebrate the holidays at all, but that does not account for why traditions have faded among those who have always observed Christmas.

Are we too pressed for time to decorate a tree? Have email and Facebook eliminated the need for the old-fashioned Christmas card? Would we rather watch college football bowl games on our 54-inch flatscreen TV than go caroling?

When it comes to Christmas, I’m as traditional as figgy pudding, even though I wouldn’t know figgy pudding from a sugar plum. My family puts up a tree, sends cards and, as shocking as this may sound to readers, I will even attend a church service. My family plans to go to a Moravian lovefeast and candlelight service — and you can Google “lovefeast” for yourself if you think I’m kidding (no, it’s not the name of a heavy metal band).

Still, we have down-scaled the decorations a bit. We have this kitten now, you see, and we’re terribly afraid he’ll pull off the ornaments or knock over the tree, so we’ve only added lights. And some members of my household — whom I won’t embarrass here — would be just as happy if we never mailed another Christmas card, probably because she is the person responsible for taking the family photo and printing scores of copies every year.

Come to think of it, we rarely go caroling. And we don’t bake gingerbread men, although we have made a couple of gingerbread houses which should have been condemned. Maybe I’m not as traditional as I’d like to believe.

Please send me your thoughts about holiday traditions. Do you still send cards or put up a tree? Why or why not? Which traditions do you still keep and which have you tossed aside like balled-up wrapping paper?

Email me at or post comments on The Roanoke Times’ Facebook page by Friday. I will run a few of the responses in Extra next week.

To see the entire Pew survey, go online at

Keep those cards and emails coming!


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Ralph Berrier Jr. has worked at The Roanoke Times since 1993. He covers the City of Roanoke and writes the Dadline parenting column.

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