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How to Celebrate HumanLight, A December Holiday for Humanists

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By Patrick Colucci

This holiday season many humanists and non-theists are preparing their annual HumanLight holiday parties and celebrations. Awareness of HumanLight as a secular December holiday is growing across the country and around the world since the idea was formed in 2001. 

What is HumanLight?

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. 

HumanLight was created and developed by leaders of the New Jersey Humanist Network, and the very first public celebration was held in December 2001 in Verona, NJ.  Since then, various secular, freethought, humanist, and atheist groups and individuals have adopted the holiday as part of their December traditions. The American Humanist Association recognized HumanLight in 2004 as a valuable contribution to the building of humanist communities and has been supportive in various ways since then.  The late humanist leader Dr. Paul Kurtz attended the very first HumanLight celebration in 2001 and returned again to celebrate in New Jersey in 2010.  

Celebrating HumanLight can be an occasion for those who are nontheists, nonreligious, freethinkers, atheists, and humanists, to create their own meaningful traditions and to help express the positive human values, hopes and ideals that they share. 

The great value of having an authentically meaningful, secular, December holiday—that’s not rooted in any existing religious tradition—is immediately apparent to many people. The name itself was chosen to indicate that it’s about humanity, not any supernatural beings. “Light” indicates the light of human reason, as the proverbial “candle in the dark.”

Why Celebrate HumanLight?

I believe that humanists should not feel obligated to follow holiday traditions that are based on supernatural religious beliefs which we don’t accept, just because "that's how we were raised." We can decide for ourselves what traditions we want to follow, or create anew. An important aspect of the humanist philosophy of life is that we have the right and responsibility to create our own purpose and meaning for our lives, not just accept what’s handed down in ancient books. 

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. 

The holiday is a distinctly positive and festive celebration of humanity-based secular values. It’s not about criticizing what we don’t believe in—it’s about celebrating and expressing what we do believe in. Of course, there is a valid place and time for criticizing what we don’t believe in, but that’s not what HumanLight is for. 

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.  

How Do You Celebrate HumanLight?

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. 

The original founders of the HumanLight Committee do have a couple of suggested guidelines or general principles:

1. 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. 

2. HumanLight should not be used for negative criticism towards religion. No matter how one chooses to celebrate, either at home or in a public event, it is strongly recommended that celebrations should maintain a positive, festive approach. 

Charitable giving is a common feature of many celebrations. Some groups gather donations for a local food bank or homeless shelter, or participate in a local community service project.       

Public events I’ve attended are usually a dinner or luncheon involving food, drinks, music, dance, candle-lightings, decorations, live entertainment, videos, short talks, readings, and fun activities for kids. Celebrations at home vary quite a bit, but again usually involve a house party, or gathering of family and friends around a festive meal. You can visit www.humanlight.org on the “How We Celebrate” page for some additional ideas and suggestions.  

For home decorations, a HumanLight-related color scheme involves using three colors: red, blue and yellow/gold, based on the HumanLight symbol. There are candles, tableware, garlands, ornaments, and other decorations that can be obtained in these colors, and they can make for some very nice displays. 

In addition, there is an array of HumanLight-related merchandise available from EvolveFish.com and from the CafePress HumanLight Online StoreBoth groupings of merchandise can be accessed from the Merchandise page on the HumanLight website. There are items such as coffee mugs, sweatshirts, t-shirts, tote bags, tree ornaments, candles, lapel pins, greeting cards, postcards, coasters, stickers, and a special music CD by Sonny Meadows. (HumanLight volunteers do not profit financially from the sale of merchandise.)

However you choose to mark the occasion, it's important to remember that the holiday is meant to focus on positive, secular values such as reason, compassion, humanity and hope. Create a festive atmosphere, either in a public event, or at home with friends and family. Be creative and have fun establishing your own traditions. Happy HumanLight!   

Patrick Colucci, a volunteer activist in the humanist movement, is Vice-Chair of the HumanLight Committee, a small non-profit volunteer group working to promote awareness of the holiday. They maintain the site www.humanlight.org, as a central clearinghouse of information, as well as the HumanLight Facebook group.  

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