Many of the things people love about Christmas have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, which some researchers believe is the reason more and more Christians are opting to stay at home instead of going to church to celebrate the holiday.
According to Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a Christian research organization, although 74 percent of Americans agree (strongly or somewhat) that "Christmas is primarily a day for religious celebration and observance," only 67 percent of all Americans also agree that, "Many of the things I enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ."
The things that people enjoy includes spending time with loved ones, who they may not get to see as often as in the past, due to the increased pace of life and longer distances between families.
Randall Balmer, a historian of American religion and an Episcopal priest in Connecticut, told the Washington Post that he, too, feels compelled to stay home with family.
“We had about half our usual crowd. A lot of people came [to church on Christmas Eve]. They felt, ‘I’ve done my duty,’ ”, said on Sunday after holding Christmas Day services. “I feel the pressure myself. I have two of my [grown] kids at home, and I hardly see them.”
This desire to maximize family time is at least part of the reason that many Protestant pastors cut down on services this year, with many choosing between Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services instead of both, which has traditionally been the norm.
LifeWay found that six percent of Protestant churches planned to have a Christmas Eve service but no service on Christmas Day. Twenty-eight percent planned to have a Christmas Day service but no service on Christmas Eve.
"Churches see these conflicting values and we wanted to know how many churches plan to conduct services on each day - since that is also such a family day, particularly the morning," said Stetzer.
However, just because some people are choosing not to go to church and churches are canceling services does not mean that people are forgetting what the holiday is all about.
Vondell Bethune, 58, whose church canceled services on Christmas Day, spent the day handing out bag lunches to the homeless near Union Station in Washington D.C.
“Christmas Day is when you should be with your family,” said Bethune, who told the Washington Post that he had been homeless for several years. “Church is the people, the congregation, not the building...Today, we were servants of the Lord, so we did have church.”