HumanLight: A Holiday for Humanists

By Patrick Colucci

Holidays can bring people together and allow us to feel like a part of family and community.  Traditions that center on family, friends, or community are a great way to enhance our lives with positive, meaningful social bonds.

Doing things together, as a family or as part of a wider community, can help form social bonds so that we become part of each other’s lives in a meaningful way and develop a sense of belonging and connection.

But we don’t have to blindly 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.

HumanLight is a secular holiday, on December 23rd, celebrated around the world since 2001.  Celebrating HumanLight can be an occasion for many who are non-religious, freethinkers, atheists, and humanists to create their own meaningful traditions and to help express the positive human values, hopes, and ideals that we share. It’s never too late to create new traditions!

HumanLight was created by leaders of the New Jersey Humanist Network in the period of 2000-2001. The first celebration was held in 2001, and word has been spreading around since then. In 2010, there were about 30 cities in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. where public celebrations were held, but it’s likely there were more that I didn’t hear about. In addition, many families and individuals celebrate privately at home.

I’m part of The HumanLight Committee, a small non-profit group of volunteer activists working to promote awareness of the holiday. We maintain the website, a central clearinghouse for information about HumanLight, and we maintain a Facebook group. We’ve done presentations at local humanist groups and at two national conventions of the American Humanist Association, as well as appearances in news media. While working with no budget, and the limited time of volunteers is a struggle, it’s always rewarding to help get the word out. Still, most of the non-religious community is unaware of HumanLight, but the response from those who first learn about it has been very positive. The value of having an authentically meaningful, secular December holiday, that’s not rooted in any existing religious holiday, is immediately apparent.  “What a great idea!” is often the reaction we get.

I realize that many non-religious people have developed traditions around the December Solstice, as a holiday rooted in nature (although it does carry a lot of pagan religious baggage). What I tell them is: while the Solstice is a clearly an important event in nature, it does not have any intrinsic human-oriented value or meaning. But HumanLight does. A number of humanist groups and individuals have taken to holding a combined celebration of both HumanLight and Solstice.

HumanLight is 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 humanity can build by working together, drawing on the best of our capacities.

It’s very important to know that the holiday is not intended to be negative or critical towards religious people or other holidays. It’s not about trying to re-interpret or secularize Christmas. It’s not offensive to Christians who practice Christmas, so it cannot be dragged into the so-called “war on Christmas” media hype. It’s not about criticizing what we don’t believe in. Instead, it’s about celebrating and expressing what we do believe in.

Celebrating HumanLight also helps shine a light on an important fact for our friends, families and the general public: You don’t need supernatural religious beliefs in order to live a good, ethical and meaningful life. You can be good, and do good, without god.

The name HumanLight was chosen to indicate that it’s about humanity, not any supernatural beings, and ‘Light’, to indicate the light of human reason, as the proverbial “candle in the dark.

HumanLight day is December 23rd and it’s celebrated on or around that day (most people use the weekend prior to the 23rd when holding a public event). This day was chosen so it would NOT conflict with other holidays that people may be celebrating around that time. I don’t expect people to suddenly abandon whatever traditions they already have, but hopefully they can begin to adopt HumanLight as a new holiday tradition.

It’s true that some non-religious people feel alienated from the rest of society during the December holidays. They cannot honestly participate in religion-based activities. They may be unaware that like-minded humanist and secular groups exist. A public HumanLight celebration helps reach out to these people and helps them find a shared community, so they know they’re not alone. For humanist-oriented families with children, I believe it’s very important for children to understand that the family is part of a larger, supportive community of people with shared values.

Because humanists and free-thinkers tend to avoid dogma and rigid rituals, the specific activities involved in any HumanLight celebration are open to invention and creativity, and will differ from place to place. Celebrations I’ve attended often include social gatherings with components such as: food, drinks, music, dance, candles, decorations, entertainment, short talks/readings, and fun activities for kids. Charitable giving is also a common feature of many celebrations.

No matter how one chooses to celebrate, either at home or in a public event, it is strongly recommended that celebrations should express our values in a positive way, while avoiding negative criticism of religion and religious holidays. That’s a central concept of HumanLight.

HumanLight is an upbeat, festive holiday, with a vibrant, positive and authentic meaning for the non-religious community. Happy HumanLight!

Patrick Colucci, a volunteer activist in the humanist movement, is vice-chair of The HumanLight Committee and a member of the New Jersey Humanist Network.