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Canadians pessimistic about prospects for happy Christmas break

The year that is about to end has been like no other, and – in many North American communities – we are headed into more days where it will continue to be impossible to travel, meet relatives and celebrate.
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The year that is about to end has been like no other, and – in many North American communities – we are headed into more days where it will continue to be impossible to travel, meet relatives and celebrate.

Every year, we ask Canadians about their greeting preference during this season, as well as whether they expect the next few weeks to be loaded with tension or joy. This year, we not only chose to add Americans to the mix, we also took a hard look at our views on religion.

Last year, 65% of Canadians told Research Co. and Glacier Media that their preferred greeting was “Merry Christmas.” This year, this phrase is up three points to 68%, while “Happy Holidays” dropped from 18% to 14%. In the United States, about three in five residents (59%) choose “Merry Christmas” while 30% select “Happy Holidays.”

In December 2019, half of Canadians (50%) said they expected the holiday season to be “more fun than stressful” while 30% thought it would be “more stressful than fun.” We may have been preoccupied with get-togethers, trips and sharing time and meals with people we may dislike. All those concerns seem meaningless now that it is impossible to hug relatives and friends who are outside our bubble. In 2020, only 30% of Canadians expect the season to be “more fun than stressful,” a delightfully ironic 20-point reduction.

Americans are dealing with significantly more cases of COVID-19, but authorities have adopted a more relaxed attitude when it comes to lockdowns. In any case, 48% of Americans foresee a stressful season, while just over one-third (36%) think it will provide more fun than tension.

The views of Canadians and Americans on greetings and gatherings are not that different, but the fluctuations are more evident when we asked them about six components of their daily lives.

There is widespread consensus on “family,” with 80% of Canadians and 79% of Americans considering this a “very important” feature of their existence. More than three in five Americans (62%) feel the same way about “country,” along with a majority of Canadians (54%).

There is also agreement on “friends” – 54% of respondents in each country say these are “very important.”

In the remaining three aspects we tested, Americans are decidedly more passionate than Canadians. While 40% of Americans say their “career” is “very important,” only 29% of Canadians feel the same way. Men are responsible for driving the American average up on this issue (46%), while Canadian women are more likely to say their occupation is “very important” (33%) than their male counterparts.

When asked about “affluence,” 21% of Americans and 11% of Canadians include it as a “very important” feature of their lives.

Still, the biggest difference on both sides of the 49th parallel is observed on “religion.”

While almost half of Americans (48%) consider it a “very important” feature of their lives, only 24% of Canadians concur with this assessment.

A vast difference is also observed on a separate question related to spirituality. Almost three in four Americans (73%) describe themselves as “very spiritual” or “moderately spiritual,” compared with only 52% of Canadians.

It is also undeniable that younger Canadians are moving away from organized religion. Across Canada, 57% of residents identify themselves as “Christian.” The proportion includes 67% of those aged 55 and over, but only 33% of those aged 18 to 34.

In Canada, almost a third of residents (32%) say they have no religion, are atheist or agnostic – including 37% of those in British Columbia. In stark contrast, seven in 10 Americans (70%) are “Christian,” and only 19% state they are atheist, agnostic or have no religion.

Finally, three in 10 Canadians (30%) say they never attend religious gatherings, while 39% do so only for special events, such as weddings or baptisms. The numbers are significantly lower in the United States, with 20% never going to a church or temple, and 21% visiting only on special occasions.

In spite of the apparent dislike of the phrase “Happy Holidays” and the endorsement of “Merry Christmas,” religion is no longer one of the most important components of life for Canadians. There are some generational shifts across the border that must also be considered. Americans aged 35 to 54 appear to be rediscovering religious observance, while in Canada, those aged 55 and over have a commanding lead over their younger counterparts. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on online studies conducted from December 3 to December 5 among representative samples of 1,000 adults in Canada and 1,200 adults in the United States. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for Canada and plus or minus 2.8 for the United States.