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MaltaToday survey | Does religion make people happier?
MaltaToday’s latest survey has registered 31% of respondents saying they don’t attend Christmas mass • 23% celebrate the midnight mass • People who consider Christmas a religious feast and attend midnight mass tend to be happier during the season
20 December 2016, 12:12pm
On the other hand, people who regard Christmas as a cultural feast could be more likely to feel sad.
This difference between respondents emerged in a survey that found 77% who see the day of the birth of Jesus Christ – one of the highlights in the Christian calendar – as both a cultural and a religious feast said they felt happier than usual during the festive season.
The percentage falls to 59% among those who primarily see Christmas as a religious feast and to just 32% among those who regard Christmas as a cultural feast.
And while only 4% of those who regard Christmas as both a religious and cultural feast say they are sadder in the festive season, the percentage rises to 11% among those who regard Christmas as primarily a religious feast, to 25% among those who regard it as a cultural feast and to 66% of those who regard Christmas as being neither a cultural nor a religious feast.
People who regard Christmas as a cultural feast are the most likely to feel “same as usual” on Christmas.
31% do not attend mass on Christmas
The survey also shows that fewer than a third of the Maltese probably do not attend mass on Christmas day. While 23% attend the traditional midnight mass, 46% attend mass during the morning.
But while mass attendance on Christmas remains high overall (69%), the survey suggests a sharp decline when compared to the past. In fact only 13% of respondents said that they did not attend mass on Christmas as children. Moreover 53% used to attend midnight mass as children compared to 23% now.
The survey also finds that 81% of those who attend midnight mass are happier during the festive season compared to 58% of those who attend morning mass and only 40% of those do not attend mass at all.
But it could also reflect the fact that younger and more educated people are the most likely to attend midnight mass, and both these categories tend to be happier during the Christmas season: 41% of young said they do not attend mass, but 27% attend midnight mass.
Young people under 35 are the most likely to attend midnight mass (27%) but are also the least likely not to attend mass at all (41%). This cohort is also the least likely to think that Christmas is exclusively a religious feast but the most likely to see in it a mix of cultural and religious motifs.
In fact while only 23% of young respondents see Christmas as primarily a religious feast (and 27% as exclusively a cultural event) 50% said it was a mix of both. This may be also a reflection of modern Maltese religiosity, in which Catholic traditions survive along a more secular outlook to life.
For although within this age bracket 41% do not attend any religious service on Christmas day, more than one in four (27%) attend midnight mass. And significantly the young are more likely to attend midnight mass than older respondents.
Among those aged over 55 years of age the percentage of those who regard Christmas as primarily a religious feast rises to 68% but among those between 35 and 54 only 34% share this view.
Older respondents are more likely to attend a religious service on Christmas day than younger respondents but are more likely to do so during the morning. Only 20% of respondents over 55 do not attend mass compared to 40% of those aged less than 35 and 34% of those aged between 35 and 54.
Midnight mass – a middle class thing?
Respondents with a higher level of education are the most likely to attend midnight mass and to think that Christmas is both a religious and cultural feast.
While 35% of the university educated attend midnight mass, the percentage falls to 20% among secondary educated respondents who are more likely to attend mass during the day. Curiously secondary educated respondents are the most likely to regard Christmas as a cultural feast but are less likely to see it as being both a cultural and religious feast.
Those with a primary level of education, a group composed of elderly respondents are the least likely not to attend a religious service at all. In all other educational cohorts the percentage of those who do not attend a religious service is between 31% and 32%.
A relative majority of the Maltese (43%) consider Christmas to be primarily a religious feast. Only a fifth (19%) of all respondents and 27% of those aged under 55 years think that Christmas is primarily a cultural feast.
But a significant minority – 35% of all respondents and 50% of under-35 year olds –consider Christmas to have both cultural and religious elements.
Only 4% think that Christmas is neither a cultural nor a religious feast. This view is highest among university-educated respondents, a tenth of whom think Christmas is neither a cultural nor a religious feast.
A similar survey held in the USA in 2015 had shown that 51% regard Christmas as a religious feast while 32% regard it as a cultural feast. But only 9% – compared to 35% of the Maltese – considered Christmas to be both cultural and religious. This may suggest that the Maltese are more likely to mix religious and cultural motifs than people in the US, where there is a sharper divide between religious and secular people.
Nostalgia of Christmas past
The survey shows that an overwhelming majority (73%) think that Christmas was better celebrated when they were children.
But younger respondents are more likely not to see any difference between the way Christmas was celebrated when they were children and now.
The university educated are also the most likely to see no difference between the ways Christmas was celebrated in the past and the way it is celebrated now. Respondents with a secondary level of education are the most likely to think Christmas was celebrated better when they were children. The perception that Christmas was better celebrated in the past may be tied with the view that Christmas has become too commercialised.
When asked what they don’t like most about Christmas 41% replied that it has become too commercialised while a further 29% think that it has become too expensive to celebrate Christmas. Among those who think that Christmas has become too commercialised 82% think that Christmas was celebrated better when they were children. 13% of respondents also referred to increased pressure to put on appearances and pretend to be merry as a negative aspect of Christmas celebrations.
The season to be jolly
Sadness in Christmas increases with age, from just 11% among 18 to 34 year olds to 16% among those aged between 35 and 54 to 24% among those aged over 55 years of age. Sadness in Christmas also tends to increase according to level of education from 6% among those with a university education to 18% among those with a secondary level of education and to 30% among those with a primary level of education. Since education often coincides with social class, low income may also contribute to unhappiness in the Christmas season.
Christmas is all about family
What really makes people happier in Christmas is meeting family and friends. 87% gave this answer when asked what makes them happier during the festive season. Only 3% mentioned presents as a reason to be happy while 8% replied that it is the Christmas decorations which make them happy. This is not surprising considering the fact that a vast majority of people decorate their homes for Christmas. In a reflection that Christmas remains a religious feast for many, the most popular decoration (89% claim to have one in their home) is the statue or model of the baby Jesus. But among those aged between 18 and 34, the Christmas tree overtakes baby Jesus as the most popular decoration. Among this category 95% have a Christmas tree while 91% have a baby Jesus.
Overall the crib seems to be losing ground to other decorations. While only 69% have a crib, 83% have a Christmas tree at home. The survey indicates that the crib has waned in popularity. For while 86% had a crib in their home when they were still children, only 75% had a Christmas tree while 82% had a baby Jesus. This suggests that the baby Jesus has overtaken the crib as a symbol of popular religiosity during the Christmas period.
Worries and resolutions
Extra weight put on during the festivities and credit card debts are the two greatest worries faced by respondents after the festive season is over. Not surprisingly, losing weight is the most popular New Year resolution.
The survey shows that women are the most likely to commit themselves to make a new year resolution. While only 37% of males make a resolution, 46% of females do so. The survey shows that males are more likely to make resolutions with regard to money and health matters while women are mostly concerned with weight. The survey also shows that a majority of those who made a resolution last year did not keep it.
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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