By Audrey Kingstrom
Most of us were literally home for the holidays this year. Covid kept us from getting together for the “Festivus for the Rest of Us” holiday party that HumanistsMN has hosted in recent years. Nonetheless, we still gathered virtually to reclaim the holiday season for ourselves.
The Zoom-room full of people who met just a couple days before the Winter Solstice shared with each other all that we love about the season – and why it remains meaningful despite our non-belief. For many of us, it is particularly helpful to change our focal point of the season from Christmas – even a secular Xmas – to the Solstice. Even a secular Xmas can have too much residual religious baggage, and the rampant commercialization and consumerism associated with it are inconsistent with our humanist values.
Besides, earth’s axial tilt is the “reason for the season”! So with poetry, midwinter music suggestions, and personal solstice reflections, we enjoyed each other’s company as we commemorated the Winter Solstice.
Too often non-Christians are made to feel like interlopers during the holiday season. But what has come to be known as “Christmas” is about so much more than the birth of Jesus. The season’s holiday traditions hail from ancient festivities — Saturnalia, Yule, harvest festivals at the end of the agrarian cycle, ancestor worship at the darkest time of year, and sun worship at the Winter Solstice. All these and more have added to the character and nature of the age-old Midwinter celebrations that continue to this day, mostly under the guise of Christmas.
But why bother to celebrate at all if there is no religious or spiritual imperative to do so? After all, the sun is going to come back whether we mark this darkest time of year or not! And, for humanists in particular, what is there to “celebrate”?
Festivals and holidays are as old as human civilization, and none are more salient than those celebrated at year’s end. These ritual and celebratory events evolved to help build social cohesion around shared experiences and values – particularly at the times of planting and harvesting. For millennia they have helped strengthen the bonds of cooperation, loyalty, friendship, and mutual support. The midwinter holiday season provides a perfect occasion for humanists as well to honor our values, promote our worldview, and to nurture our own communities.
Further, as humanists, we reclaim this pivotal moment in the cycle of the seasons as our holiday because, true to our worldview, the Winter Solstice signals our inextricable connection to the natural world. We stand in awe and wonder at the forces of nature and the regeneration of earth every year. We recognize our place in the interdependent web of life and pause together when the sun stands still to ponder our commensurate responsibilities to each other and the planet.
Finally, in this season of little light — with earth at rest — we join with people across the globe who welcome these annual rites of feasting, generosity, and jubilee. At year’s end, people from all religions and cultures have come to share a common heritage of taking a respite from everyday work and duties, venerating what is good in all of us, and looking ahead to a better year. Celebrating the Winter Solstice requires no creed or ideology but captures that universal longing of the season for “peace on earth, goodwill to all.”