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OTTAWA – Merry Christmas! At least, that’s what you’re likely to hear from fellow Canadians in the coming weeks, according to a new poll.

An overwhelming majority of people across Canada – 76% – are more likely to use that greeting instead of the generic happy holidays and seasons greetings, indicates an Abacus Data poll on how Canadians celebrate Christmas.

That number held in most provinces except Quebec, where the French-language ‘Joyeuse fetes’ is common parlance and preferred by 38% of respondents.

“We’ve been told we have to be politically correct,” said pollster David Coletto.

“But Canadians have told us they’re comfortable using merry Christmas.”

The majority of Canadians – 52% – also celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, while just 40% of respondents say they pay special attention to Dec. 25 for religious reasons.

It’s a statistic that doesn’t surprise Queen’s University English literature professor Heather Evans.

“If you look back far enough, what we think of as Christmas celebrations were not specifically religious,” she said “They were actually secular holidays designed to celebrate the change in the seasons.”

Evans noted the Christian church only acknowledged Christmas in the fourth century and that many cultural, economic and social forces contributed to forming the celebrations into the “mish-mash” it is now.

It was the 17th-century Puritans who disapproved of the rowdiness – “misrule, topsy-turvey, cross-dressing, all kinds of histrionics” – linked to earlier Christmas festivities, said Evans.

“The Puritans were not fans of Christmas, so their influence was shown in the shift emphasizing Christmas as an occasion to go to church, and not to eat. It was a fast day, not a feast day.”

But if the Puritans are no longer putting a damper on Christmas, the global financial crisis still might.

Only nine per cent of those polled suggested they would be spending more on gifts than last year, and 30% said they’d be spending less.

“Christmas is not immune to the tough economic times,” Coletto noted.

“There’s still a large chunk of Canadians who say they will cut back.”

Still, Coletto said the holiday, with its traditions, celebrations and decorations, isn’t going anywhere.

“Christmas with a capital ‘C’ is alive and well within Canada,” he said.

The online survey polled 1,004 respondents between Dec. 2 and Dec. 4. Since it is an online poll, a margin of error could not be calculated.

Good Decisions Require Good Data.