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Austin Cline

Weekly Poll: Should Atheists Create Secular Holidays?

By December 20, 2012

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Many atheists stop following the traditional, religious holidays observed by religious people and theists. Others still observe them, but they have lost their former meaning. Some atheists have tried to create new, secular holidays as replacements - like Solstice and Darwin Day. Is this a good idea?

There can be a lot of social value in holidays, whatever ostensible reasons one has for celebrating them. Holidays can serve to form a connection to your own past by evoking memories of past celebration. Holidays can form and reinforce connections with the friends and family with whom you celebrate. Holiday events can also create connections across an entire society as people develop parallel experiences which forge subtle bonds.

Rituals that are integral to holidays can be important because they are often significant means of social communication. Ritual is a type of behavior which "says things" rather than "does things." Sometimes what is said can be negative, for example rituals which serve to reinforce a person's status as someone subordinate when they should really be equal. Often, however, what is said can be quite positive because it lets others know that you continue to care about them.

This means that the rituals in holidays can be necessary means by which relationships with others are reinforced or even furthered -- and in ways which may not be possible in quotidian contexts. I'm not sure, though, if any of this is enough of a reason to create new holidays on completely secular foundations and for completely secular reasons. What do you think?

March 27, 2008 at 9:41 am
(1) ee says:

I think little traditions and larger celebrations are very important.

One little one I do is every March 15th I serve Ceaser Salad at dinner. My friends think I am odd – but how is it really different from drinking green beer on March 17th.

Little traditions can be fun – even when they don’t go any further than your family (or in some cases yourself)

March 27, 2008 at 10:03 am
(2) Eric says:

I’d be against something like Darwin Day. It would give the anti-evolution people something to point at when they want to make their claim that agreement with mainstream science is a religion, especially since there isn’t a Newton Day or an Einstein Day.

Since atheism is not a religion, ideology, or philosophy, but simply the absence of affirmative belief in theism, it seems a bit odd to me to create holidays based around it.

March 27, 2008 at 10:24 am
(3) Tom says:

There are secular holidays: New Years Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, The Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and my favorite, Christmas!

I’m only partly joking about Christmas. It is my favorite holiday simply because it’s provided me with so many good memories. Some people can say that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but for me the reason for the season is celebrating friendships family ties. And presents! Doesn’t get more secular than that.

March 27, 2008 at 11:30 am
(4) DaveTheWave says:

I agree Tom, those are all excellent secular holidays and even when I was a young child, Thanksgiving and Christmas to me meant lots of fun, great food and sweets, the anticipation of gifts, seeing relatives and friends at parties, pretty decorations, singing, and holiday shows on TV. There was very rarely anything mystical or religious about Christmas, save for the occasional reminder of a saviour’s birth. Santa Claus and Rudolph were much more to the fore than god or Jesus. Though the presents galore were always nice, the best part was spending time at home with friends and family. Christmas has become secularized and that’s a good thing, as more people can celebrate it together for the mere enjoyment of it.

I do think having atheist holidays of our own is a good idea, but perhaps they should be placed at times of year that will not make it seem like we are trying to “replace” the original religious days with the godless ones…that would get the religious reich hardliners’ panties in a bunch. Though it is fun to watch them get into their little tizzies, the tizzies would distract people from seeing how much fun the new atheist holidays will be.

March 27, 2008 at 6:14 pm
(5) tracieh says:

Call it a party, and I’ll be there!

March 27, 2008 at 10:56 pm
(6) silkworm says:

If you look at the way the Japanese celebrate Christmas, you will see the secular nature of the celebration.

Before it was hijacked by the Christians for the birth of their mythical godman, the season was celebrated throughout the Graeco-Roman world as the winter solstice or new year celebration. It is only the term “Christ” within the word “Christmas” which reminds us of its relation to the Jesus story. If you want a reason for the season (or rather, a reason for having a day off work), then celebrate the solstice. For that matter, we should agitate for celebrating the summer solstice as well.

The Japanese have a green Santa, and it could serve as a model for us in the West. With the urgent need to bring the mind of the public to the matter of global warming, perhaps the green-secular movement could change the colour of Santa to green; and change the date from the 25th to the 22nd; and call it Green Santa Day.

March 30, 2008 at 4:27 pm
(7) Locked Away says:

I don’t see the need for holidays being made mandatory time off actually. I’d rather no mandatory holidays on the list and people just take time off for themselves as they like, such as for birthdays, personal celebrations and so on. Holidays (IMO) are nothing more than big shopping days for retail stores.

March 31, 2008 at 3:59 am
(8) James Jackson says:

Cancelling Christmas presented only a minor adjustment until several years later, as I attempted to raise my children as atheists (as I have done successfully). Fortunately, birthdays, New Year’s, and (cheating a bit here, perhaps) Halloween all took on magnified significance. I’ve thus learned first hand the importance of seasonal ritual. As atheists gain the upper hand demographically, Darwin Day and Solstice day sound like great ideas and serve us better as yearly milestones than those silly consolidated substitute Christmases, like Kwanja and others I won’t mention. But don’t we already see a social shift away from those obnoxious Easters and Christmases, or am I just projecting my wishful thinking?

March 31, 2008 at 12:04 pm
(9) Bruce says:

Three of our holidays were celebrated as holidays before the Christians converted them to a religious meaning. Of course Christmas was the new year, Easter was the celebration of Spring and harvest festivals have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years before an official Thanksgiving day was declared and a myth about religious pilgrims sharing with Indians.

Of course those Pilgrims had much to be thankful for because without the goodwill of the Indians bringing them food they would have surely starved to death. But that is not the reason people have always celebrated with harvest festivals.

The rest of our ‘official’ holidays are secular but in some way celebrate sacrifice and/or victory in wars. I don’t think either gives a positive look to the future.

Earth Day should become an official holiday celebrated by everyone in ways that promote a healthy environment and reject the old ways of capitalistic consumption.

November 27, 2008 at 10:43 am
(10) Patcall says:

After reading Phil Zuckerman’s “Society without God” I would say we can live with the holidays we have. Just ignore the god stuff.

November 28, 2008 at 11:20 am
(11) Ex Partiot says:

Celebrate the holidays and forget the religious aspects that are attached to them, I send out a card at holiday time with a picture of a wooly mammoth on it and it says have a warm and safe holiday as he trudges through the snow and cold.

November 28, 2008 at 3:45 pm
(12) alaink says:

Kids (well, our grand-children) love the family gatherings and gift-giving and christmas is Santa Claus just as easter is bunnies and if they have heard about Jesus and ask, well I tell them Jesus was invented as a nice story just like Santa and they don’t give it a second thought. We decorate the house lavishly but there’s no creche and not a single angel in sight (got lots of ornaments themed with cats, they are much admired). The christmas music is carefully chosen to avoid any religious items and the jingle bells version by Count Basie is the best! Merry Christmas!

November 28, 2008 at 7:53 pm
(13) John Hanks says:

All holidays have lost their meaning because they are buried by consumerism. The only people who care about the meaning of these events is churches, and they have little effect on our most popular “observances”. Holidays have lip service but they are really just an excuse to celebrate and shop.

November 29, 2008 at 8:06 pm
(14) Joan says:

Everything in moderation. I love the holidays but I am certainly not one of those trampling greeters at WalMart the day after Thanksgiving!
I read that Santa was traditionally shown dressed in green until Coca Cola came out with their version of Santa in the red suit.
I agree that there need not be any “atheist” holidays as there is no atheist dogma (if you will). Just secular holidays. I would like to see a new holiday that stresses the importance of separation of church and state and celebrates that.

November 30, 2008 at 9:15 am
(15) Beatnik Bob says:

Create all the holidays you want, but business isn’t going to pay any attention. I work for the Postal Service, so I get Columbus Day and President’s Day off (I’m sort mail, I don’t deliver it – I usually volunteer to work those days). People complain about the holidays we get as it is, no one is going getting any more days off. Do you think this is France?

Of course, if it does happen, look for Darwin Day sales on electronics and furniture.

December 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm
(16) Elk says:

Festivus for the rest of us.

December 3, 2010 at 3:21 pm
(17) Borsia says:

Yes I do have holidays; but rather than coming up with some arbitrary day that isn’t recognized by anyone but me I used the more obvious ones that are celebrated by others.
I celebrate the winter solstice instead of Xmas, Mayday instead of Easter, etc.
Granted it does confuse some people when they wish you a merry Xmas and you reply with Happy Solstice. But those who are celebrating the supposed birth of Jesus at a time when he couldn’t possibly been born are already far more confused than I could ever make them.
(Read the truth about Jesus by Magurditch available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store. You will see absolute proof that Jesus never existed as a god or as a man.)

December 4, 2010 at 12:24 pm
(18) Gerald Vanderhoff says:

Eric says that there is no Newton Day. In fact, the Skeptics Society celebrates Newtonmas every year on Isaac Newton’s birthday, December 25.

December 4, 2010 at 2:40 pm
(19) vjack says:

If they will translate into extra time off work, create as many as possible. If not, don’t bother. I have no use for holidays of any sort but could certainly use more time away from work.

February 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm
(20) Bill Haines says:

You might want to do some reading; such days already are celebrated.

January 13 — Ernestine Rose’s Birthday
January 29 — Thomas Paine’s Birthday, Freethinkers’ Day
February 12 — Charles Darwin’s Birthday, Darwin Day
March 14 — Albert Einstein’s Birthday, Pi Day
March 16 — James Madison’s Birthday, Freedom Of Information Day
March 16-22 — Sunshine Week
April 1 — April Fools’ Day
April 12 — Cosmonauts’ Day, Yuri’s Night
April 22 — Earth Day
May’s 1st Thursday — US National Day Of Reason
June 21 — World Humanist Day
July 1 — Chevalier De La Barre Day
July 4 — US Indivisible Day
August 11 — Robert Ingersoll’s Birthday, Ingersoll Day
September’s Last Full Week — Banned Books Week
October 12 — Freethought Day
Novermber 7 — Marie Skłodowska-Curie’s Birthday
Novermber 7 — Carl Sagan’s Birthday
November’s Last Full Week — Church/State Separation Week
December 10 — Human Rights Day
December 23 — HumanLight
December 25 — Isaac Newton’s Birthday, Crispness, Newtonmas

And I’m sure there are more.

December 22, 2012 at 7:26 am
(21) tsahpina says:

i believe that we should first find out what antient scientist first said theres nothing beyond the nature or/and that theres no god. or which one of them was the most influental in it. and then celebrate a day in the name of this scientist. its probably a greek,but maybe even older than antient greek. when we descended the trees and became humans we or rather they,cos id be ashamed to have been one of them,invented god. and then much later one of them realized its all crap. so i would celebrate him. or the day of the nature. but what day would that be. probably the first day of spring. when the nature reborns every year…

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