(RNS) Add another holiday to the December dilemma — HumanLight.

Human Light

Five-year-old Amanda Smith, of Center Valley, PA., makes shadows in the projector light during the New Jersey Humanist Network’s HumanLight celebration in Morristown, NJ. This is the 12th annual observation which included music, speeches and science show for children. RNS photo by Amanda Brown.

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In addition to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, secular humanists have added a new celebration to the crowded calendar. HumanLight, observed on or about Dec. 23, is a secular celebration of human potential that is growing in acceptance.

This year, at least 18 groups, from New Jersey to Florida and Pennsylvania to Colorado, have ceremonies planned. And at least one government building that displays holiday scenes has added HumanLight to the roster: the county courthouse in Wabash, Ind., displays a yellow, white and red HumanLight banner on the same lawn as the Christian creche.

“The key to understanding HumanLight is to understand it is a holiday that is humanity-based,” said Patrick Colucci, vice-chair of The HumanLight Committee, a volunteer group which helps promote awareness of the holiday.

“It is about celebrating and experiencing a positive vision of the future that we believe humans can build together by working for a more just, more peaceful and a better quality of life for all.”

HumanLight evolved from meetings of the New Jersey Humanist Network, of which Colucci is a member. In the late 1990s, members began asking each other what they could do to celebrate during December.

“The December holiday period is always a discussion for those of us who are nontheistic,” Colucci said. “What are we going to do if our families want us to go to church? Should we celebrate Christmas even though we don’t want to? The question came up: How come there is no holiday for the nonreligious?”

Human Light

Patrick Colucci, vice chair of the HumanLight committee, speaks during the New Jersey Humanist Network’s HumanLight celebration in Morristown, NJ. This is the 12th annual observation which included music, speeches and science show for children. RNS photo by Amanda Brown.

They also wanted a way to celebrate that did not involve a man in a big red suit.

“It was an issue when families in our group started to have young children,” Colucci said. Try explaining to a five-year-old why you don’t celebrate Christmas, or Hanukkah.

“That is why HumanLight has a very strong focus on family and community and building that among humanists and the nonreligious,” Colucci said.

In 2001, the group held its first HumanLight celebration with a communal meal. It has evolved to include the lighting of three candles that represent reason, compassion and hope. A fourth candle represents the holiday itself.

“To help express the meaning of this holiday, we light candles, rather than curse the darkness,” Colucci read last weekend (Dec. 16) as he lit the candles for 90 HumanLight celebrants gathered in a New Jersey community center. “We light candles to symbolize lighting the way forward to a better future for humanity and for each other.”

Human Light

Anthony Valente, 8, of Maplewood, NJ, prepares to light a candle during the New Jersey Humanist Network’s HumanLight celebration in Morristown, NJ. This is the 12th annual observation which included music, speeches and science show for children. RNS photo by Amanda Brown.

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

After the first HumanLight observance in 2001, other humanist groups adopted it, too. There are no set practices, so many groups have developed their own. Today, HumanLight celebrations include science book exchanges, charity auctions, musical performances, and magicians and clowns for children. There are even HumanLight cards, ornaments and “carols.”

“O come, all ye doubters,” goes one lighthearted version. “Joyful and united, O come ye, O come ye, to share HumanLight. Come to our potlucks, born of many recipes.”

In Grand Junction, Colo., a group called Humanists Doing Good will mark the holiday by packaging food and hand-knit items for the homeless and distributing them in person on Christmas Day. Last year, for their first observance of the holiday, they delivered treats to people who had to work on Dec. 25.

“It was clear that it was often not necessarily the gifts that were making people’s day brighter,” said Jesse Bond, a member of Humanists Doing Good, “but the act of simply having people go out of their way to notice them and talk to them. It was also nice to feel like we were not being perceived as being engaged in any ‘war on Christmas’ or raging against the nativity scene.”

Human Light

(Left to right) Ellen Johnson, of Stanhope, NJ, Carol Shields, of Bridgewater, NJ, Anthony Valente, 8, and his dad Tom, of Maplewood, helped to light the candles during the New Jersey Humanist Network’s HumanLight celebration in Morristown, NJ. The three candles that are lit represent reason, compassion and hope. RNS photo by Amanda Brown.

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Observances of HumanLight are still few and far between — only 30 groups reported celebrations in 2010 — but it’s growing. Leaders of several national nontheist organizations have recently endorsed the holiday, including Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

HumanLight, Speckhardt wrote, “provides a unique opportunity to show our religious neighbors that humans don’t need supernatural religious beliefs in order to live a good, ethical, and meaningful life.”

Not everyone is rushing to light the candles. Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and author of “The Trouble With Christmas,” recently listed six reasons the nonreligious should shun all December holidays.

Among the reasons, fears of conformism.

“Nonreligious people make themselves disappear when they cling to a ‘me too’ holiday so as not to be seen with nothing special to do towards the end of December,” Flynn said.

“We’d further increase our visibility by ignoring the holiday and pressing our employers to leave the office open on December 25.”



  1. I have nothing against HumanLight or any other alternaive holidays: the more holidays the better. But I just don’t see why humanists can’t just enjoy the myths and celebrations of Christmas without taking them seriously. This is our collective, cultural mythology: believe it all, believe some of it, believe none of it. Who cares? Religion is fun! You don’t have to believe it to enjoy it. Whatever is the problem?

    • Very well said.

      Whatever is the problem? is correctly said also.

      Why should anyone mock the “religious fun” that many enjoy and are grateful for just because that fun and enjoyment is not appreciated by some.

      Tolerance is a two way street.

      “Do unto others…” applies to all……doesn’t it?

    • H.E. Baber:
      there are several issues/problems with what you suggest: that humansts should enjoy and celebrate Christmas myths but not take them seriously.

      First of all, doing that creates confusion about who humanists are and what they believe. This is especially problematic for families with children — it sends troubling mixed messages to kids, who may be left wondering, just what are we doing, and what do we believe?

      Second, this approach is offensive and disrespectful to Christians who believe in christmas. To them, Christmas is not a bunch of funny myths. So you run the serious risk of being seen as attacking and criticizing a lot of people’s religious beliefs. That is certainly not going to help secular, humanist people become more accepted in general society.

      Third, if you take the “let’s enjoy christmas without believing in it” approach, then you are Not really celebrating anything of real meaning. It becomes an essentially meaningless endeavor. Why are your celebrating? what is the purpose? That’s why HumanLight is such a valuable alternative holiday. It imbues your celebrations with an authentic meaning, that relates to your real values, beliefs and hopes.

      • I appreciate this response, because I am to a fair extent, puzzled–not just asking a rhetorical question. So here’s my take in response to your questions.

        (1) I dunno–I have kids and when they were young I didn’t see any reason to make a point of distinguishing between fairy tales, Greek mythology, plots of novels or Bible stories. They figure it out eventually. Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t see why this is an issue. I was never interested in indoctrinating them–just exposing them to all the richness of our culture.

        (2) I am a Christian and don’t find this approach in any way offensive. The Christmas story IS largely a bunch of funny myths. Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem, there were no shepherds or angels, he wasn’t laid in a manger, etc. Most educated Christians know this and don’t care.

        (3) I don’t understand the stuff about “meaning.” Rituals and stories are fun–any excuse for a celebration is fun. “values” “beliefs” “hopes”–who cares! Street festivals and farmers markets are fun. Opera is fun. Ceremonies and rituals are fun. I guess I’m just not that serious–just interested in eating, drinking, playing and entertainment. That’s Christmas. And, to a great extent, that’s religion–fun rituals and stories that you can take any way you please and enjoy.

        • H. E. Baber:

          I think the problem is that not all Christians have the same relaxed, open attitude to Christmas as you do, hence the silly “War On Christmas”. Furthermore, many Christians take the Bible stories a lot more seriously than you seem to do. A lot of them think that all of these stories are literally true, let alone metaphorical, mythical, or even “fun”.

  2. Enjoy whichever holiday you want, as many as you want, in any way you choose, and let everyone else do the same.
    As they celebrate their chosen holiday In the privacy of their homes, churches, centers, rented halls, etc, don’t ask them why they can’t do this, or can’t do that, or can’t do it the same way you do, or why do they want to or need to do this or that.

  3. Why the additional holiday, humanists? You already have Festivus!
    Anyway, Merry Christmas to all God’s children (even those who don’t realize that’s who they are…)

    • Johnny — Festivus is not a real holiday, and is not by or for humanists. Festivus is just a joke from an old TV show. it has no positive meaning or message, and no positive human values (in fact it’s quite negative). So , there is no comparison with HumanLight.

  1. […] One might think that by setting up a late December holiday only days before Christmas, the risk of “being confused with god-worshipping people” is present from the get-go. But if that wasn’t enough, many HumanLight celebrations appear to be modeled after traditional Christmas celebrations. Instead of advent candles, HumanLight has a candle-lighting ceremony with candles representing Truth, Reason, and Compassion.  The HumanLight website sells ornaments for a “holiday tree” and “holiday cards.” Instead of Christmas carols, practitioners sing HumanLight hymns, some of which are apparently just reworked Christmas song. Take this tune, overheard by an RNS reporter last December: […]