You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, Dec 24, 2012 : 10:32 a.m.

Christmas: Joyous for yourself—or for others?

By Wayne Baker

1961 Blue Room Christmas tree John and Jacqueline Kennedy CREDIT Robert Knudsen White House Collection.jpg

CHRISTMAS IS A MAJOR PART OF OUR CIVIC CULTURE. In 1961, John and Jackie Kennedy show off the Blue Room Christmas tree, decorated with a Nutcracker theme that year. Photo by Robert Knudsen for the White House Collection. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing global religions.

We now know — thanks to Pew’s new report on the Global Religious Landscape — that close to one in three people on planet Earth consider themselves to be Christian. Pew says Christians comprise 31.5 percent of the global population or about 2.2 billion people.

That makes Christmas one of the world’s most celebrated holidays. Christianity teaches that Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, is a more important holiday—but Christians love celebrating Christmas. Polls on American church attendance show Christmas (including Christmas Eve) equal to or surpassing Easter attendance. I’m posing two question in this widely celebrated holiday week …


At least for Americans, Christmas can be joyous or stressful. About 46 percent of Americans consider the holidays to be joyous, according to a late-December poll by Rasmussen Reports. Almost the same proportion (42 percent) considers the holidays to be a stressful time.


One family I know has an unusual family tradition that spreads their joy at Christmas. They take their two boys to the mall, but not to shop.

Instead, they find the gumball machines in the vending area and put quarters in them—so the next person who wants a treat will find a pleasant surprise. They bring discount coupons they clipped earlier in the day, and serendipitously tape them to the products displayed on the shelves. And, they quietly give $10 to the cashier as they check out, instructing the cashier to put it towards the purchases of someone behind them in line, with the additional instruction to say, “Merry Christmas!”

Take a moment and answer either of these questions.

Enjoy this final week of 2012, whatever holidays your family celebrates.

Come back— will return on Wednesday, focusing the remainder of this week on the new Pew study of global religions. Join us again after Christmas Day!

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.