What are your helladay plans?

December 5, 2011

Well, the Some People's Favorite Holiday Season is upon us again. How to you plan to observe -- or not observe -- the "helladays"?

I invite your comments for an obvious reason. As the "Anti-Claus" I've become kind of the #1 guy for secular humanists and other unbelievers who choose to sit out the entire holiday season, purposely and conspicuously. Of course, secular humanists vary widely in their approaches to this ubiquitous and, to many, intrusively religious season. Where do you stand?

In no particular order:

1) It's not the birthday of anyone I know. Far as I'm concerned, December 25 is just another day. (That's my stance, but you probably knew that.)

2) I find the holiday deeply offensive and rebuke every aspect of it. Christians who wish me "merry Xmas" are practicing cultural imperialism of the most brutal and contemptible sort. (Even I don't go that far, though I come close!)

3) I observe an alternative festivity, but not the Winter Solstice -- after all, if I'm not a Christian, I'm not a pagan either. (So what do you observe? HumanLight? Festivus? Newton's Birthday? Something else?)

4) I keep the secular side of Christmas -- what the hell, most of it's pagan or commercial in derivation anyway.

5) I do the whole Christmas routine from hot buttered rum to rum-pum-pum-pum and I don't see any contradiction between doing that and being a secular humanist.

6) Jingle bells, jingle bells -- I just can't help doing it all at holiday time, worldview be damned!

This isn't one of those glossy online polls where you get to check boxes, it's a plain old blog post. Please reply with your thoughts. If none of the five options express what this time of yeare means to you, by all means ignore tham all and post your own comments.

And here's another, related question. Are holidays in general overrated? Do you welcome any excuse for a party, or does it seem to you that in our culture where most people (except the poorest) lead lives of agreeable consumption day in and day out -- and where even those considered "poor" today lead lives in many ways incalculably richer than those known by kings of old --  the whole notion of a holiday as a socially sanctioned opportunity for conspicuous consumption means less than it used to?

Reply away!


#1 Darcy (Guest) on Monday December 05, 2011 at 8:27pm

I do #3 in my head (partial to Newtonmas), and #4 for everyone else. Don’t tend to go for decorations and christmas (or Newtonmas) trees though.

Gathering with family and gift giving is the thing, nothing overtly religious in evidence.

#2 tudza (Guest) on Monday December 05, 2011 at 8:55pm

Why do you have to be a pagan to celebrate the solstice? 

As a bicycle commuter, I celebrate the day when the length of time I have to ride home in the dark begins to decrease.

#3 Leila (Guest) on Monday December 05, 2011 at 9:05pm

I celebrate solstices and equinoxes, not as pagan traditions, but rather as celebrations of our natural world with our own family traditions. I make a point of celebrating both solstices and equinoxes because it doesn’t make sense to me to place extra importance on the winter solstice alone. And as for winter solstice, I make a point of celebrating it on the day of the solstice, not on the 25th, which seems ridiculous to me.

#4 Chris (Guest) on Monday December 05, 2011 at 9:54pm

I am not sure how wishing someone “Merry Christmas” could be constrewed as cultural imperialism; maybe today it would merely be considered politically inncorrect. Now, just the economic benefits of the holiday season alone give legitmacy to the importance of Christmas… As a believer why do unbelievers have to undermine the good will and happiness that the holiday season brings to people all over the country? Yes, it has become commercialized but can you not accept the arguement that joy, regardless of its root, deserves recognition as a posative force in this country?

#5 Agnosticpastor on Tuesday December 06, 2011 at 5:32am

My situation is a bit different… Instead of writing a long comment,  you can read about it here if you are interested. http://agnosticpastor.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/merry-happy-whatever/

#6 Pau (Guest) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 at 7:55am

I have, since long ago, remembered my friends wishing them a happy solstice day, (June and December).
When my daughter was about five years old, I tried to explain the festivities, their origins and their change of date according to the discrepancies between calendars. I gave her a choice of who or what she wished to celebrate. Since at that time, she had just come back from a stay in París with her grandparents, she chose Pompidou.
So, here we are, still remebering him.

#7 Tom Flynn (Guest) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 at 8:24am

A quick response to a couple of the responses. Why do I associate Winter Solstice celebrations with paganism? The historical link is unquestionable. Northern Europeans had any number of mythologies about a dragon eating the sun who had to be prayed away each year and the like. Most of these myths shared a background assumption that unless some kind of mystical action was taken, the days would never stop getting shorter and one day darkness would cover the earth. As moderns, we know this is not going to happen. The Winter Solstice is a simple, predictable, brute phenomenon that arises coincidentally out of the way our world orbits its sun, period. Moreover, the Winter Solstice functions as a “symbol of hope” only over about a third of the world’s habitable surface. In the tropics, solstices don’t mean much of anything. In the south temperate zone, the Winter Solstice is actually the summer solstice, the day after which the days will keep getting shorter. Why celebrate that!? For these reasons I find modern-day efforts to revive Winter Solstice celebrations hollow. First, if one understands a bit of astronomy, the celestial event is quite ordinary, hardly deserving of ritual elaboration. Second, as we move away from a culture dominated by residents of the north temperate zone in toward a more truly global culture, the north-temperate Winter Solstice doesn’t even work as a symbol any more. No, for my money the Winter Solstice only really works as a fulcrum for a festival inside a full-throated pagan tradition ... the sort of thing secular humanists have rejected as thoroughly as they’ve rejected such Christian ideas as transsubstantiation and vicarious atonement.

Tom (ho ho ho, no no no)

#8 Leila (Guest) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 at 11:32am

Why do solstices and equinoxes have to be globally significant to be celebrated? Why do they have to be astronomically significant to be celebrated? Why does a historical association of a natural phenomenon with paganism invalidate it as a cause for celebration in its own right?

I live in Canada. Solstices and equinoxes have always been significant days here, for everybody, not as any kind of religious event or celebration of any kind, but as significant days on the calendar that people take notice of and comment on.

My family chooses to celebrate these days because they are significant to us, because they make for four nicely spaced out special days throughout the year, and because we enjoy creating a family tradition that is associated with our natural world.

I’m not advocating that these days should become globally celebrated, but few, if any celebrations are truly global. I advocate letting people create their own traditions and celebrations based on events that are significant to them. Frankly, I don’t even understand why we have culturally mandated holidays of any kind.

And as for the summer solstice, I actually do celebrate the days getting shorter again because I enjoy long winter evenings. My husband would agree with you on that point, however.

I’m with you 100 percent on rejecting Christmas (and Easter, etc.), but you’ve lost me on the solstice/equinox-bashing.

#9 L.Long (Guest) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 at 8:22pm

I celebrate family, gathering, fun, presents, and all the pagan trappings and will even mention Cheeses (all of them swiss, blue, chedder, etc).
But I now do this with “White wine in the sun”.

#10 Pau (Guest) on Wednesday December 07, 2011 at 1:44am

Solstices mark important happennings in our yearly cycles. The days and nights invert from shortening to lengthening and visceversa with its important changes in life cis.
I have lived in latitudes where solstices are hardly noticed,
There, the Sun goes across the zenith, twice in a year!
It sure makes a noticeable difference!

#11 mid atlantic on Wednesday December 07, 2011 at 1:59am

This is a hopeless argument; some do want to celebrate and some don’t,it comes down to personal nature. There is no use in bitchery. The concept that winter celebrations are cultural imperialism(read: racist white motherfuckers) is laughable P.C. bullcrap; any non white people can refuse to take part if that is what pleases them.

#12 Melody Hensley (Guest) on Saturday December 10, 2011 at 10:00am

Me and my husband: 2) I find the holiday deeply offensive and rebuke every aspect of it. Christians who wish me “merry Xmas” are practicing cultural imperialism of the most brutal and contemptible sort. (Even I don’t go that far, though I come close!)

#13 gray1 on Sunday December 11, 2011 at 7:38pm

When the dark grows long and cold it’s fear and discomfort we communally seek to dissolve as long held expectations and perceptions of an end to such a crappy existence gradually presents itself as the minutes of the blessed sun’s light slowly increases, making the promise of some good days yet to come.  That’s the essence of faith, no matter what you believe.  Egg more Nog please!

#14 Tom Flynn (Guest) on Monday December 12, 2011 at 12:12pm

Comments #11 (by mid atlantic) and #13 (by gray1) need to be read together. If mid atlantic doubts that there’s cultural imperialism in the Xmas/solstice tradition, gray1’s comment would seem to settle the matter. In this instance we’re not talking about cultural imperialism on behalf of racists whites, but on behalf of North Temperate Zone (NTZ) residents generally. As we move toward a genuinely global culture, the trouble with both Christmas and the Winter Solstice is that they only apply to the NTZ—and while it’s true that for many, many years the only cultures strong enough to get their way were all NTZ-based, that’s not going to be true much longer. Gray1, did it occur to you that the sky phenomenon to which you attach such importance only prevails over about a third of the world’s habitable surface? (With due respects to commenter Pau, solstices and equinoxes are of course observable in the tropics, but I know of no tropical culture that assigns them an importance anything like what so many NTZ denizens have assigned to the Winter Solstice.)

This is why I harp so much on the need for universal applicability, which several commenters have found confusing. I’m often asked what I would replace Xmas with if I had that power. My first criterion is that any candidate “replacement holiday” should employ symbols that carry the same meanings everywhere on the planet, so that they can be universally adopted by the global society of (in all likelihood) tomorrow. Sorry, solstices don’t qualify: they carry the opposite meaning in the South Temperate Zone and signify little in the tropics. To the large degree that Xmas is itself an NTZ Winter Solstice festival, I suspect its days may be numbered too.

Tom Flynn, aka “the AntiClaus”

#15 Mitch Lingrell (Guest) on Monday December 12, 2011 at 12:19pm

As I’m not sure where I am in life as far as spiritually, I guess what I’m feeling at this time of year is simply camaraderie. I know most all of my family is religious, and some are of the pushy variety that think by inundating me with their beliefs I will succumb to the way that’s “right”. I don’t celebrate this time of year for any one reason. To me it’s a time to get a bit of a break from the grind, find out what the rest of the family is doing in their lives, visit with friends who also have busy lives, and give gifts to show my appreciation for those close to me in my life. I don’t put up a tree most years, and if I do it’s to enhance the beauty of the snow and ice that reflects the love of a good home.

#16 S. Morrow (Guest) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 at 9:10pm

The holidays do connect people, whether merchant, friend or family.  It’s nice to gather together for warmth, light, food and conversation during the darkest part of the year, whenever that may be.

#17 Ronald A. Lindsay on Wednesday December 14, 2011 at 5:01pm

#4. That’s close enough, although the term Christmas isn’t really used (or any alternative term). Usually have a couple of margaritas followed by a movie on 12/24, after which, especially when we had young children and now again when we have a grandchild, we open presents.
That’s a factor that I venture may be an important predictor whether an atheist observes the holiday in any way: that is, whether there are children in the household. Why punish your kids just because the Christers ripped off and appropriated a Roman holiday? There will be more important things for them to take a stand on later in life. And why 12/24 instead of 12/25? Practical reasons in part; in part also so kids didnt buy into story that Santa was the one bringing the presents

#18 gray1 on Wednesday December 14, 2011 at 6:45pm

“the need for universal applicability”  - Tom Flynn

Need?... need… that sounds like nothing so much as yet another attempt at cultural imperialism or perhaps world cultural fascism - dare I mention NWO? Death to all individual cultural values, especially the NTZ ones via implementation of “fair” holidays? 

Ok, the English language is also one of those NTZ derived things that unfairly dominate cultures due to past global imperialization. Whine not, because adopt and absorb has forever been the ticket, so that’s just another brick in the new tower of Babel wall.  Install a universal secular grossly crass commercialized “happy holiday” for everyone.  Oh, that’s been done also… humming along to “another brick in the wall”.

Is anyone truly forced to celebrate the hybrid Pagan/Christian rebirth/birth day whilst numerous other cultural groups from different parts of the world already have their own versions of seasonal (or non-seasonal) holidays on-going? Must we now hybrid all Winter/Summer (global, remember) fetes into one?  Wear any shirt you want, as long as it’s the brown one.

Important only to a third of the world’s habitable surface… and this is somehow something fit only to be cast aside?  It happens to be my 1/3 so it’s quite important to me, thanks.

#19 Pau (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2011 at 2:07am

Gray, the Summer solstice was celebrated in Catalunya (and still partly is) with as much preparations as the winter’s. Enjoying the longest day of the year was as much or more fun than celebrating the longest night. So, if you live in the Southern hemisphere ¿Why not join us and celebrate both?
Never mind if the Catholic church has stolen one for Jesus and the other for John, and next fouled up the dates with changes in the calendary.

#20 Pau (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2011 at 2:16am

Gray, perhaps if you dwell a little more in the habits and civilizations of the ancient world, you will see that is not exclusive of the northern hemisphere to notice the significance of the solstices. Of course, and very undemocratically, the Equator chose to divide the habitable land unequally. ¿Should we try to retilt the axis of the earth?.

#21 asanta on Sunday January 01, 2012 at 2:18am

I inherited a brother with Down Syndrome, who was born on the summer solstice, and believes in Santa. Since my parents were atheist/agnostic, he was never inculcated with baby jebus. We put up a tree and wait for Santa. We spend time with family and friends, nothing even remotely religious, except for the few family members who are nominally religious and insist on saying a prayer before eating when we visit, but they know we don’t share their beliefs.. it is a quick prayer, and they never try to push it on us.

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