Humanists celebrate the roots of Christmas and Hanukkah

  • post Type / Members and partners
  • Date / 10 December 2007

IHEU member organization American Humanist Association writes: What do nontheists (atheists and agnostics), such as humanists, do for the holidays?

“Many people are under the false assumption that secular people like humanists are just a bunch of old Scrooges who don’t celebrate the winter holidays,” commented Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “But actually, we humanists appreciate and enjoy the season in ways that go right to its roots. Christmas and Hanukkah are both derived from much earlier nature celebrations of the Winter Solstice. This makes this festive time the common property of all. And as for Scrooge, he’s a character in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ a story that became a major part of the process of secularizing the holiday so all could enjoy it.”

One of the newest ways of celebrating the season is with a specifically humanist observance called HumanLight.

In 2001 Joseph Fox inaugurated HumanLight in New Jersey. Since then the concept has spread across the country, and now internationally. More details can be found on the HumanLight website at http://www.humanlight.org/.

“Because humanists shy away from rigid rituals, the specific elements of HumanLight celebrations will differ from region to region, and even year to year,” said Fred Edwords, director of communications for the American Humanist Association. “But commonly they include a meal with friends and family, dancing, gift exchanges, and short talks, discussions, or readings. Some aspects are similar to religious observances while others are different.”

Though having no god belief, humanists recognize that observing celebrations fills a human need for togetherness. From pre-Christian times to the present the arrival of winter has been celebrated as a special time of year, so it’s a likely choice for groups independent of traditional religion.

And HumanLight isn’t the only way humanists may choose to celebrate the winter season. “My family and I have long exchanged holiday gifts, decorated a holiday tree, and all that,” Edwords added.

“And this year I’m particularly thrilled to have a new holiday movie out that celebrates my values–‘The Golden Compass.'”

Some have considered “The Golden Compass”–both book and film–controversial because of its challenge to religious authoritarianism and support for freethinking. There have also been objections to such a film being released during the holidays.

“My family and I enjoyed this film together,” Edwords said. “And the holidays are a perfect time for it. After all, we humanists have families and we celebrate the holidays, too. So it’s about time we had a holiday film that expresses our values.”

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