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Easter spending may hit record highs, even as religion wanes

(NewsNation) — Consumers are expected to spend a record $24 billion on Easter this year even as religious participation continues to decline nationwide. It’s a trend experts point to as a sign that Americans are increasingly separating religious holidays from religion itself.

“It’s a cultural event more than just a religious event,” said Ryan Burge, a political scientist who specializes in religious trends at Eastern Illinois University. “People aren’t really being swayed by the message of Jesus on Easter because they’re thinking about the Easter egg hunt and the dress and the dinner afterwards.”

Despite the fact that Americans are becoming less religious, surveys suggest Easter is still widely celebrated.

This year, 81% of those surveyed by the National Retail Federation (NRF) plan to celebrate Easter, just down slightly from 83% a decade ago.

Over that same time period, the share of Americans who identify as nonreligious has risen from 27% in 2008 to 36% last year. Moreover, the percentage of people who say they attend weekly religious services continues to fall.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated those trends, particularly among young people and self-identified liberals, recent research has shown.

About 43% of people plan to go to church this Easter, down from around 51% before the pandemic.

But the commercialization of Easter, a Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus, has continued apace.

American households are expected to spend an average of $192 on Easter, the NRF found. That’s the highest household average on record and follows a trend of rising Easter spending, which is up 40% over the past decade.

Most of those surveyed (56%) plan to celebrate by cooking a holiday meal and about 50% plan to visit family and friends.

“Easter endures as an important holiday for many Americans, signifying new beginnings and a time of celebration with friends and family,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said.

Burge — who is also a Baptist pastor — thinks the strong enthusiasm for religious holidays may stem from fundamental changes in the way we socialize.

As Americans spend less time at physical gathering spaces like churches and community centers, he says many are placing greater emphasis on events where people come together.

“(Religion) creates these tent poles, these pegs, that we can use to hang get-togethers on,” Burge said.

Many churches have embraced that idea and are now leaning into secular traditions, offering family Easter egg hunts as a way to build community.

With 12% of Americans attending just one religious service a year, Easter Sunday provides an opportunity for churches to reignite an enthusiasm that has faded over time.

“You’re probably talking about 30 million people that come to church on an Easter or Christmas that wouldn’t typically come at another time,” Burge said.

There’s little evidence that big attendance days lead to more regular churchgoing, Burge said, but that doesn’t mean the separation of holiday from religion is necessarily a bad thing.

An excuse for communities to come together may be better than the alternative, in which both the religious meaning and a reason to gather are lost.

“Fifty years from now, when over half of Americans are nonreligious, Easter is still going to be a pretty big day,” Burge said. “It’s going to be a cultural touchstone for lots of people whether they believe in it or not.”

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