Every year, millions of Humanists around the world celebrate Christmas. We do it joyfully, meaningfully, and (dare I say it?) authentically, without either pretending to be Christians or grinchishly trying to take anything away from them. For many of us, it is our favorite holiday, “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song puts it.
That’s a real accomplishment, one that has taken decades or even centuries of work. We seldom step back and take credit for that accomplishment, but we should.
So have a Merry Christmas, Humanists. You deserve it. Celebrate proudly and apologize to no one for the traditions that bring you joy.
A skeptic (we love skeptics) might ask what a Humanist Christmas consists of and what it is all about. That’s easy: On Christmas, Humanists celebrate family, community, and universal themes like peace on earth and good will to all people. We tell stories of mythic characters (like Scrooge, the Grinch, and many others) who, for a time, were lost to family and community but had powerful experiences that turned them around and brought them home again.
It is, for us, a time of hope. If we feel securely connected to our loved ones, we think of those who are lost to us and hope that someday they may return. If we ourselves feel lost, it is a time to examine those broken connections and ask if or how they might be repaired.
From the repair of personal relationships, our eyes rise to the distant possibility of repairing the world, and we indulge the perennial Humanist dreams of world peace, world community, and universal justice.
It is natural to do this in what (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) is the darkest time of the year, because at the winter solstice it is the sun that seems lost to us, but turns around and starts coming back. These times of darkness are naturally times of hope, as we yearn for the long summer evenings of memory.
Those themes are embodied in a variety of traditional celebrations. We gather together with friends and relatives to have large communal meals, and each household develops its own traditions around particular dishes, decorations, and rituals. We exchange presents as tokens of our mutual appreciation and try not to let mercantile Christmas take over, with its greed and extravagance. We deck our halls with lights (symbolizing hope as the cold season turns) and evergreen trees (which symbolize the continuance of life through difficult times).
“But wait!” our skeptic may object. “That’s just Christian Christmas.”
Is it? To the extent that Christians find the same meanings we do in the season, we are happy for them. And if they want to overlay the holiday with some Christian myth—one that fits the overall themes, we hope—that’s up to them. (We will, however, object if they commandeer public resources to send a sectarian message.) But the annual Christian campaign to “Keep Christ in Christmas” is a virtual admission of just how well the holiday works without Christ. No one has to remind us to keep the turkey in Thanksgiving or the fireworks in the Fourth of July.
Ultimately, of course, we are all building on the inheritance of traditions far older than any of our current belief systems. The solar cycle, the feasting, the evergreens, the gifts, and many of the other components have their own histories that go back much further than the birth of Jesus, the miracle of the Temple lights, or any other story of the season. And as all religions that last do so by satisfying human needs, some amount of convergence is to be expected.
I am told that if you look into the ancient history of Humanist Christmas (back to the twentieth century or even further), it does intertwine with Christian Christmas. There is, after all, the odd coincidence of the name. But no matter. It is its own holiday now, and a very fine holiday it is.
Merry Christmas, Humanists.