This morning, I received my favorite Yuletide publication – my email of the American Humanist News. It caught my attention because the title of the email was “The Secular Holiday Issue (Part 1).” In the email was the link to an article entitled “How To Celebrate Humanlight, A December Holiday For Humanists.”
Humanlight? What in the world is Humanlight?
Well, according to the article, Humanlight is a new holiday (first celebrated in 2001) that may have been set for December 23 so that Humanists can have a holiday to celebrate around Christmas. Why do I say it "may have been set for December 23"? That's a long story. Here’s what the article says:
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.
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Yet it is crucial to understand that HumanLight is not intended to be negative or critical towards religious people or other holidays. It’s not about trying to reinterpret or secularize Christmas. Since it’s not an attempt to create a secular version of Christmas, it avoids all the pitfalls and conflicts that come from that path. It cannot be dragged into the so-called “war on Christmas” media hype.
(Ah, so while I appreciate that the humanists have developed a “positive, secular vision” around the holidays. I guess I would be even more appreciative if the humanists would tell their fellow atheists at American Atheists which has “launched a new digital holiday billboard in Manhattan’s Times Square ... asking the provocative question, ‘Who needs Christ during Christmas?’” which they answer with an insulting “Nobody.” But, I digress.)
As I alluded above, while the date seems definitive, it really isn’t. You see, this new Humanist holiday has been has been scheduled for near Christmas but not on Christmas so as to not interfere with “holiday traditions that are based on supernatural religious beliefs which we don’t accept.” Now, I should note that HumanLight has been faithfully scheduled for December 23rd … unless the Humanist wants to celebrate it on another date. According to the article,
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.
So, if I read this right, this is a holiday that has no set date because, as freethinkers, there should not be any rules. But then, of course, the date isn’t that important, is it? What should be more important is how the holiday is to be celebrated. You know, Christmas is the celebration of the Birth of Christ through going to church, exchanging presents (because He first gave to us), Christmas trees, etc. Hanukkah is the miracle of the candles that is celebrated through the lighting of the hanukkiah and playing dreidel. Perhaps, it should be how we celebrate the holiday that is important. The article notes:
What happens at a HumanLight celebration? Anything you want! The specific activities involved in any HumanLight celebration are open to invention and creativity, and will vary from place to place. There are no preset “rules” for how to celebrate. There is no prescribed ceremony or ritual. There is no “holy text” to read. There is no secret handshake.
Of course. Why should there be rules or expectations about the celebration for people who set their own rules when there isn't even a set date? But even so, there are, apparently, suggestions as to how to celebrate HumanLight:
In celebrating HumanLight, there should be some component that serves in some way to celebrate and express humanist-oriented values and ideals in a positive manner. How this is done, and to what degree, is up to the discretion and creativity of those involved in the celebration. But this concept relates to the basic purpose and meaning of the holiday.
So, even the suggestions of how to celebrate remain vague and left completely up to the individual. And, of course, given that the holiday is brand new, it wouldn’t be right to expect that any Humanist traditions have developed around this new holiday (although I cannot image freethinkers feeling bound to follow traditions).
In all sincerity, I have no problem with Humanists celebrating HumanLight. I would be happy to attend a HumanLight party to enjoy the company of my Humanist friends as long as it doesn’t interfere with the celebration of Christmas. In fact, if they are serious about making sure the celebration of HumanLight is positive and not “used for negative criticism towards religion”, I would welcome this approach greatly over the usual insulting approach that too many atheists take towards this very important day to believing Christians. But contrary to the claim in the article that HumanLight is "not an attempt to create a secular version of Christmas," I don’t believe that HumanLight is anything more than a Christmas alternative. It is held “on or around” December 23 so that it can be celebrated on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day when all of the Humanists’ friends, neighbors and relatives are over otherwise celebrating Christmas. The rules relating to the celebration remain vague in part so that Humanists can put up trees, exchange gifts, sing secular Christmas song (e.g., "Santa Claus is coming to town") and take the kids to see Santa Claus without feeling that they are compromising their Humanist beliefs. It allows the keeping of traditions of Christmas while abandoning the real reason for celebrating Christmas at all. That’s fine if that’s what the Humanists want to do. I certainly don't oppose them setting up as many Christmas alternatives as they please.
But as for me, I choose to celebrate Christmas: the night that God came into our real, broken world through the birth of the second person of the Trinity as a human being ultimately to die on a cross to pay for our crimes so that those who accept this great truth can receive the gift of becoming true sons of God. That’s much more meaningful to me.