What is HumanLight?

In many societies, late December is a season of good cheer and a time for gatherings of friends and families. During this holiday season, many events are observed.

HumanLight presents an alternative reason to celebrate: a Humanist vision of a good future.  It’s a future in which all people can identify with each other, care for each other and behave with high moral standards.  We believe people can build this future by working together towards a happy, just and peaceful world, drawing upon the best of our human nature and capacities.

We wish to celebrate this vision, and the positive human achievements which help work towards that better future.  And we wish to share this vision with our children, families and friends.  We can do this by celebrating the HumanLight holiday together.

HumanLight is a humanist-oriented festive holiday intended to celebrate and express the positive, secular values of reason, compassion, humanity and hope for a better future.

(Scene from the very first HumanLight celebration: Dec. 2001, Verona, NJ)

(above: scene from the very first HumanLight celebration, Dec. 2001, in Verona, NJ)

Celebrating HumanLight can demonstrate a positive presence in the general community for secular, non-theist people. A public event to celebrate the holiday draws attention, often attracting news reporters as well. Through public holiday celebrations, we can reach out to people who may feel alone and isolated in our society (because they don’t accept the common religious views of life), and who may be unaware of humanist organizations, events and publications.

It’s also very important for the general public to know that their society includes productive people who lead ethical and meaningful lives, but who don’t have supernatural religious beliefs.

HumanLight encourages us to have fun enjoying music, art, food, and each other’s company.  It gives us an opportunity to convey in a positive way that, although we don’t believe in the supernatural, we do believe in the growth and betterment of all people through reason, science, compassion, joy, optimism and moral excellence. It is a message we present in kindness, when we come together in a positive and constructive atmosphere, not to engage in debate and not to criticize other people’s beliefs.

Who created HumanLight?

HumanLight was founded by members of the New Jersey Humanist Network (www.njhn.org).  The idea of a new December holiday was first brought up for discussion in 1998 and the very first public celebration was held in Verona, New Jersey on December 23, 2001, at an event attended by close to 100 people.

The name HumanLight was chosen for its emphasis on humanity (as opposed to the supernatural) and the light of reason.  HumanLight connotes the proverbial “candle in the dark,” suggesting that the hope for our future rests on human accomplishments, guided first and foremost by the unique human capacities for reason and compassion.

Shortly after the name HumanLight was selected, the symbol was designed. The symbol depicts the light of the sun, and human figures celebrating with arms outstretched. The font characters composing HumanLight are of a festive, decorative nature.

When is HumanLight?

HumanLight day is December 23rd.

When December 23rd falls on a Saturday or Sunday, HumanLight is often celebrated either day of that weekend. When December 23rd falls on a weekday, HumanLight is often celebrated either day of the prior weekend.  (This applies mainly for public group celebrations where a weekday or weeknight event would be impractical for scheduling reasons).

The very first HumanLight celebration was held on December 23, 2001.  The holiday has grown in popularity around the country and the world ever since. HumanLight day is December 23rd, and should always be celebrated on or around this date. The date was chosen for several reasons.  The main idea was to place it within the peak celebration time of the December holiday season, yet to have a specific, distinct date that did not coincide (and did not interfere) with other events and holidays such as Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve. December 23rd is close to the shortest day of the year (Solstice), a natural event of note, as well as very close to vacation days that typically lead to family and social gatherings.  Also, because of this, humanists at family gatherings and other holiday social events would be able to say “Happy Holidays” in a sense that now includes HumanLight, and this can help start a constructive conversation with loved ones about what Humanism is.

Why not just celebrate the Solstice?

This is a question often asked by Humanists hearing about HumanLight for the first time. HumanLight is a holiday to celebrate and express human ideals and values, and a positive secular vision of a peaceful, ethical, and happy world that we, as humans, can bring about, without reliance on concepts of supernatural beings.

The Winter Solstice, on the other hand, does not have any intrinsic human values or meaning.  It is a natural event caused by the way the Earth rotates, and that can be appreciated without any reference to humanist values.  In addition, the Solstice is an event celebrated by, and often associated with, ancient pagan religious traditions. Thus, Humanists celebrating the Solstice may run the risk of being confused with pagan god-worshipping people.

We can try to explain the distinctions, if we are lucky enough to have the opportunity, but there is no need for such an effort when we celebrate HumanLight.

One of the reasons that December 23rd was chosen for HumanLight was that it would not coincide with the Winter Solstice. Thus, Humanists who wish to do so can celebrate other events and holidays as well.  In fact, many freethought and humanist groups have a long-standing tradition around celebrating the Solstice in some manner.  This was primarily because the Solstice had been seen in the past as the only December holiday that was reasonably suitable for non-theistic people.  But with HumanLight, now there is an authentically meaningful humanity-based holiday to celebrate.  Some groups and people have taken to combining their existing Solstice traditions with a new HumanLight celebration.

Should there be holiday displays for HumanLight on public/government property?

One question that has come up is whether or not local groups or individuals should try to put up a HumanLight holiday display on public property in December.  There has been a lot of controversy in towns around the U.S. for decades, about holiday displays on public property for the traditional religious holidays.  The situation, as ruled upon by U.S. Courts, generally breaks down like this: If the government agency allows any holiday displays on public property, then they should allow all holidays to be represented — a non-discrimination policy, basically.  Or, not allowing any holiday displays at all on public property is also legally acceptable (and this latter approach is actually preferable in the opinion of many freethought / humanist organizations).

We think it’s best not to create unnecessary political controversy around HumanLight.  We recommend that HumanLight supporters should tread very carefully in this area, and should keep in mind that HumanLight is still not a well known or widely recognized holiday.

First and foremost, we feel that people should focus their time and energy on having a wonderful group celebration event (or private celebrations at home), and not worry too much about getting a holiday display on public property.  We think it would be regrettable if the initial introduction of this new holiday into your community was focused around a lawsuit or political controversy. That would be an unfortunate and negative way of making the larger community aware of the holiday, and is likely to create ill will, which is contrary to the meaning and purpose of HumanLight.  It would be much better in our view to hold a great holiday celebration event and generate some positive responses to that!

Therefore, we suggest the following:

If your local government and community are welcoming and tolerant about accepting a HumanLight display on public property, and if they already have other holiday displays, and if it would Not cause political controversy or lawsuits, then go ahead with a holiday display.  In that kind of situation, it would be seen as a positive, beneficial contribution to community diversity and tolerance.  And it would help spread public awareness of HumanLight in a positive atmosphere.

If you do decide to have a HumanLight holiday display on public property, this is usually done with some kind of sign or poster.  In keeping with how the holiday was conceived and its meaning, we strongly urge that only positive messages be used, that are NOT critical towards religion or other holidays.  Examples of appropriate sign messages: “Happy HumanLight!”, -or- “Celebrate HumanLight with Reason, Compassion, Hope”.  Signs/displays would also include the HumanLight symbol (or some similar version of it).

 humanlight_cover1 dec 2012 from bill haines

Please feel free to contact the HumanLight Committee if you have a specific local situation that you’d like to discuss further (see the “contacts” page).