Everyone has their own take on the winter holiday season which is now upon us. I’m inclined to think that the need for this annual rite in northern climes may be in our DNA. The holiday that is now known as “Christmas” is really about winter. Enduring the short days and long nights. Steeling ourselves against the snow, ice and cold. Our species having survived with scant resources under harsh conditions. Just shut off your own lights, turn off the furnace and go without all your electronic entertainments in these darkest days of December and consider what you might be doing to get through the season!
Christians usurped festive ancient rites and pagan survival customs for their own purposes—hence the name “Christmas” for our winter holiday traditions. Increasingly, many of us are uncomfortable associating ourselves with a holiday devoted to the baby Jesus—even with its parallel secular vibe. But that doesn’t mean we humanists, agnostics and atheists have to give up our very human need for some festivity and conviviality at this bleakest time of year.
Remember, the real reason for the season is “axial tilt.” Thus celebrating the winter solstice is a “natural” thing to do. The northern hemisphere is tilted the furthest from the sun at this time of year. It’s going to be cold—and dark—especially here in the Northland. While ancients “celebrated” the winter solstice for superstitious reasons (i.e. to bring back the sun), modern people have good reason to celebrate as our ancestors did. These ancient holiday festivities have served to help keep up our spirits and connect us to our neighbors—who just might be needed for our own survival!
But more importantly nowadays, when we have distanced ourselves from the natural world in so many ways, we need to remind ourselves of the fragility of the biosphere and take responsibility for maintaining its balance. At the winter solstice, this pivotal moment in the cycle of life, it is a great time to acknowledge our temporal place in the natural world and reaffirm our earth-centered values. It is the time of year that lends itself to introspection and frivolity. We can make room for both, just as our ancestors have done for millennia.
Within our own freethought community, we now have several holiday events for people to enjoy. Our own organization has scheduled its upcoming December 20th chapter meeting at the beautiful Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield. Also, the following day, Sunday, Dec. 21st, the actual winter solstice, we will join Minnesota Atheists for a solstice banquet and entertainment at the restaurant and pub RePUBlic at Seven Corners near the University of MN.
And for anyone seeking a more traditional winter holiday experience, replete with music, poetry, theatrics, evergreens and twinkling lights in a darkened hall overlooking Minneapolis, I would invite you to the First Unitarian Society for its humanist and family friendly Midwinter Revels Program on Dec. 20th and 21st. I have been producer and coordinator of that event for over a dozen years. Take advantage of these events and get out to enjoy the real reason for the season. Happy Holidays! Good Yule! Happy New Year!