When it comes to holiday celebrations, December is a busy time. Christians celebrate Christmas, Jews observe Hanukkah and many African descendants participate in Kwanzaa celebrations. While the month is already chock-full of cheer, it seems atheists have traditionally felt left out of the mix, so they’ve created “HumanLight,” their own holiday to commemorate secularism.
Generally celebrated on or around Dec. 23, HumanLight is meant to tout human potential and “peace.” Contrary to other holidays, this secular observance was founded as an alternative to “supernatural religious beliefs,” as non-believers search for a way that they, too, can take part in the winter holiday season. An official web site setup to describe the endeavor reads:
HumanLight illuminates Humanism’s positive secular vision. In Western societies, late December is a season of good cheer and a time for gatherings of friends and families. During the winter holiday season, where the word “holiday” has taken on a more secular meaning, many events are observed. This tradition of celebrations, however, is grounded in supernatural religious beliefs that many people in modern society cannot accept. HumanLight presents an alternative reason to celebrate: a Humanist’s vision of a good future. It is a future in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just and peaceful world.
The following video explains HumanLight in full:
While the non-theist celebration may seem odd to those hearing about it for the first time, Religion News Service (RNS) reports that it has been around for just over a decade and is gaining traction among non-believers in some areas of the country:
This year, at least 18 groups, from New Jersey to Florida and Pennsylvania to Colorado, have ceremonies planned. And at least one government building that displays holiday scenes has added HumanLight to the roster: the county courthouse in Wabash, Ind., displays a yellow, white and red HumanLight banner on the same lawn as the Christian creche.
The holiday, which was born in the late 1990s, developed after members of the New Jersey Humanist Network began asking themselves how they, as non-believers, could commemorate the holiday season. Eventually, HumanLight became the answer everyone was apparently searching for.
In an interview with RNS, Patrick Colucci, a non-theist who helped create HumanLight, explained that, rather than focusing upon a deity, HumanLight celebrates humanity and the ability for everyone to come together to build “a more just, more peaceful and a better quality of life for all.”
“The December holiday period is always a discussion for those of us who are nontheistic,” Colucci told RNS News. “What are we going to do if our families want us to go to church? Should we celebrate Christmas even though we don’t want to? The question came up: How come there is no holiday for the nonreligious?”
While HumanLight will certainly be new to many, it is in its 12th year of observance. Some atheists began celebrating back in 2001. It was at that time that a communal meal was held. Today, just a little over a decade after the atheist holiday commenced, new practices are included, as those who celebrate it light three candles to represent reason, compassion and hope. A fourth candle, as RNS notes, represents HumanLight itself.
Despite originating in New Jersey, other non-theist groups have adopted the holiday across America. Some hold book exchanges and charity endeavors, while others provide entertainment for children. Taking a direct page from Christmas, some celebrants even create HumanLight cards, holiday carols and ornaments.
But while some non-believers are hankering for their own reason to celebrate the season, not all atheists, agnostics and humanists are on board. In fact, Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, believes that these non-theists should simply shun all December holidays.
“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,” he said. “We’d further increase our visibility by ignoring the holiday and pressing our employers to leave the office open on December 25.”
For more about HumanLight, be sure to read RNS’s profile on the atheist holiday.