A Humanist’s view of Christmas celebrations
Penny Binsted wrote the following article for the Lawshall (Suffolk) village newsletter. She says, “It has been very well received and I have had many positive comments! Maybe there are more closet Humanists than people like to admit.”
As Christmas is meant to be a celebration for Jesus’s birthday it is obvious to me that I have nothing to celebrate as I am a humanist. Humanism is the conviction that we can make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values and that we can all lead good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. Humanists make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves. We choose to take responsibility for our actions and work with others for the common good.
The number of people in the UK choosing non-religious humanist ceremonies for births, marriages and deaths is growing rapidly, as is the membership of the British Humanist Association, from Professor Richard Dawkins (Vice President of the British Humanists), Professor Susan Blackmore, the late Claire Rayner, Ricky Gervais, Rowan Atkinson, Woody Allen, the authors Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, to politicians Roy Hattersley and Ken Livingstone. The journalist Polly Toynbee is the current President of the British Humanist Association and all three main parties in the House of Commons have Humanist groups.
The history of Christmas celebrations is eclectic – for thousands of years in Europe, in Scandinavia communities celebrated life in midwinter, with eating and drinking, around the time of the shortest day on December 21st. It is highly unlikely that Jesus Christ was born on 25th December, and there were no Church celebrations for Christmas until the 4th century as there was disapproval of the Pagan festivities. Then Christians adopted the old Pagan festival of Midwinter, making it a joint secular and religious event â€“ it is now a jumble of ancient customs and more recent inventions: many of our â€˜traditionsâ€™ like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, cards, gifts and turkeys are all fairly recent, mostly Victorian inventions from Prince Albert.
The actual nativity has a historical significance, especially if you are a Christian, but over the last 20 years in our society it seems to have built up into a greedy and commercial opportunity (starting in September!) with people almost bankrupting themselves to provide what is â€˜expectedâ€™ of them, as the advertisements for gifts and special food encourage spending. Our modern Christmas seems to have become a time of indulgence with a sprinkle of hope for the future, at New Year.
So I don’t celebrate Christmas at all but I do have a Winter Solstice party for family and friends as a celebration for the shortest day and longest night on the 21st December as we pass over this important natural marker. This date is not really the end of our Winter but the days are becoming longer as we move into Spring so there is a promise of new growth and renewal as we move into the new calendar year.