Only 12% of adults in have a detailed knowledge of the Christmas story, according to new research published last week by Theos, the public theology think-tank.
In the ComRes poll more than 1,000 adults were asked questions about the Christmas story as narrated in the Bible. The findings reveal that when it comes to the classic elements of the story, such as the appearance of an angel to Mary or where Jesus was born, the vast majority of people, 73% in each case, know the story.
However, that number falls considerably when people are asked slightly more difficult questions. For example, 48% of people know that John the Baptist was Jesusâ€™ cousin but only 22% that Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape Herodâ€™s massacre of the innocents.
The knowledge of the Christmas story varies with age. The youngest people questioned (aged 18-24) know least, with only 7% knowing the correct answers to all the questions asked.
Middle aged people (aged 55-64) know most – 18% answering all questions correctly.
In terms of the geographical spread, the Midlands comes out as the most biblically literate part of Britain, followed by Wales and the South West, the South East and Northern England respectively.
Scotland is at the bottom of the table with the lowest average number of correct answers given.
The knowledge of the Christmas story fluctuates with belief. Unsurprisingly, Christian churchgoers know the story best with 36% answering all questions correctly, compared with only 5% of atheists.
Commenting on the results of the survey, Paul Woolley, Director of Theos, said: “These findings provide us with a good snapshot of our national relationship with Christianity.
“They show that the Christmas story, in its classic formulation is still very much in our cultural blood stream, as indeed is the Christian story as a whole.
“However, when you probe in any depth, you discover that our knowledge and understanding is rather more shaky.
“The fact that younger people are the least knowledgeable about the Christmas story may reflect a decline in the telling of Bible stories in schools and the popularity of Nativity plays.
“No-one seriously thinks that being a Christian or a member of the established Church is the same thing as being British today. But, at the same time, if we are serious about social cohesion we can’t afford to ignore the stories that have bound us together as a culture for a thousand years.
“Any attempts to down-play the Christmas story in order to help social cohesion are likely to be counterproductive.”