Who’s Celebrating HumanLight This Year?

Patrick Colucci explains in Humanist Network News what HumanLight is and why Humanists ought to celebrate it:

HumanLight is a secular holiday on December 23rd. It’s designed to celebrate and express the positive, secular, human values of reason, compassion, humanity and hope. HumanLight illuminates a positive, secular vision of a happy, just and peaceful future for our world, a future which people can build by working together, drawing on the best of our human capacities.

The 23rd was chosen so that it would not conflict with other existing holidays, but would still be in the thick of the holiday season, when many gatherings of friends and family occur and people might be off from work. We’ve always said that it can be celebrated “on or around” December 23, in order to avoid any rigid rules about dates.

Celebrating HumanLight helps build the humanist community. For humanist families with children, it’s very important for kids to understand that the family is part of a larger, supportive community of people with shared values.

That’s all well and good. I love that, in some cases, charitable giving is part of the celebration.

The only problem is that virtually no one actually celebrates it. Not seriously, anyway. Maybe some people who work for Humanist organizations or local Humanist groups, but that’s about it. (Prove me wrong, people. Prove me wrong.)

At first glance, it just seems like a cheesy knockoff of something everyone else just does better. (At second glance… same thing.)

I appreciate the effort. I really do. I like the sentiment. I’m just not going out of my way to do anything for it. If I get together with any local atheists over the holidays, we might jokingly call it Festivus or Solstice party… but we won’t take any of that seriously, either.

The American Humanist Association’s Roy Speckhardt adds to the call for celebrating HumanLight:

HumanLight isn’t an attempt to re-interpret or take the Christ out of Christmas, and it’s certainly not meant to be critical of the holiday. Instead, HumanLight is about celebrating and expressing what fills our lives with love and meaning. Analogous to humanism itself, HumanLight describes what one might do with the holiday; it doesn’t proscribe what one must do. So, these celebrations are the personal choice of the community and they differ from place to place. But no matter how one chooses to celebrate, either at home or in a public event, these celebrations express human values in a positive way that brings people together.

In other words, if you do anything to celebrate the people around you… or life in general… around this time of year… just call it HumanLight. The vagueness makes it that much harder to form consensus around.

Why not just celebrate being around friends or family without a special name for the occasion?

The Council for Secular Humanism’s Tom Flynn believes Secular Humanists should avoid any celebration of the winter solstice or HumanLight for a number of reasons:

… First, celebrations of the winter solstice have deep roots in a spectrum of European pagan traditions. Atheists, humanists, and freethinkers aren’t just not Christian, they respectfully reject all religions, living and dead. As I say in my book “The Trouble with Christmas,” “If we are not Christians, we are not pagans either.”

Secondly, it devalues our commitment to a clear-eyed, rational understanding of science when we attach quasi-mystical significance to what is actually a thoroughly mundane astronomical event. Yes, after the solstice the days will get longer. South of the equator, they’ll get shorter. So what?

I’m on board with that. Celebrating the winter solstice makes as much sense as celebrating 12-12-12. You can do it, but you should know there’s nothing all that special about it. (For what it’s worth, HumanLight isn’t explicitly a celebration of the winter solstice.)

Where Flynn loses me is Reason #5:

Fifth, nonreligious people make themselves disappear when they cling to a “me too” holiday so as not to be seen with nothing special to do towards the end of December. We’d further increase our visibility by ignoring the holiday and pressing our employers to leave the office open on December 25.

That’s an easy thing to say when you work at the Council for Secular Humanism. Not so much when you work just about anywhere else. (Saying “Boss, don’t give us the day off!” will improve your social life as much as saying, “Teacher, you forgot to give us homework!”)

As I said before, I don’t have a problem with anyone who (for real) celebrates HumanLight. It’s well-intentioned. But it just seems unnecessary.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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