The Midlands is heading national opposition to moves to secularise Christmas, according to a poll published today.

The survey found that 84 per cent of people in the region believe celebrating the birth of Christ remains an important part of the festival, compared with the national average of 80 per cent.

The study follows a string of high-profile reports of apparent attempts to rebrand Christmas on secular lines as a "winter" celebration.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu - the former Bishop for Birmingham - is among those who have attacked what he called "Wintervalitis", a reference to the decision eight years ago by Birmingham City Council to rename Christmas "Winterval".

Recent controversies elsewhere include a school which took turkey off its festive menu in favour of halal chicken and a council which chose not to use the word Christmas on its cards, opting for "Season's Greetings".

The survey, carried out for the religious thinktank Theos, also found that 62 per cent of people nationwide said Christmas made them think about spiritual matters while 77 per cent said that it made them think about what is "important" to them.

The poll conducted between December 8 and 10 as the festive shopping rush was getting under way, also found that 89 per cent believed Christmas is too commercialised.

Of 1,000 adults polled by telephone by CommunicateResearch, 86 per cent rated spending time with family and friends as the best thing about Christmas.

In the Midlands however, that figure rose to 88 per cent.

Paul Woolley, director of Theos, said: "There is an annual rash of 'winterval' and 'political correctness gone mad' stories, but the results of this poll reflect what's really going on in the Midlands and the UK.

"The majority of people are more inspired by the values of faith, family and friends than is often imagined.

"Underneath the consumerism associated with the modern Christmas, there are deeper values at play which contribute to our well-being as individuals and a society."

* Gifts of food, sleeping bags and towels are being sought for Birmingham's homeless on Christmas Day.

Birmingham Open Christmas takes in homeless people for six days over the festive period when other refuges close down. This year St George's Post 16 Centre in Great Hampton Row, Newtown, is hosting the event, from December 23.

Up to 60 rough sleepers will be offered a bed for up to five nights, three square meals a day and entertainment plus hairdressing, chiropodist and dental treatment on specified days.

The project, which has been running for 33 years, is entirely reliant on donations.

St George's opened its doors after its former venue, St Martins Youth and Community Centre in Highgate, called time on the festive treat after a decade there.

Kitty Morewood, chairman of the Open Christmas trustees, said she was greatly relieved the project had been saved. Volunteers will also go on "soup runs", taking food to the homeless in Birmingham city centre not using the shelter.

Anyone who can donate tinned and packet foods (within their date of consumption), sleeping bags, blankets, towels and tea towels should take them to St George's Post 16 Centre, Great Hampton Row, Newtown, Birmingham between December 22 and 26.