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Secular Holidays;

Reasons for Non-Believers to Celebrate.

Joshua Michail

9 September, 2012

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Starfleet emblem from Star Trek, in holiday colors, green, blue, white, and red. The Starfleet motto appears at top "Ex Astra, Scientia", also "Live Long and Prosper".        It's now September [at the time that I wrote this back in 2012]. The holiday season is coming up quickly. For many people who are new to being a non-believer it is probably quite a difficult time. If you don't believe in certain things, like Jesus or a god let's say, how can you celebrate many of the “big” holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, etcetera? Well, the truth is, you can. In fact, the holiday season is probably even more fun. And why not? Are you going to let other people tell you that you can't enjoy the holiday season? Holidays are for us all to enjoy, as we wish. No one owns the rights to celebrate. Though the reasons to celebrate may differ.

        Before I continue with the holiday season, I'd like to mention something. With the recent passing of Neil Armstrong [25 August, 2012] many people may be tempted to create a holiday to honor him. It seems like a reasonable proposition too. But, I don't think we should create a new holiday for Neil Armstrong. Though he was considered a hero to not just Americans, but all of humanity, for being the first person to step foot on the moon. You see, there already is one. It celebrates, more specifically, the act that made Armstrong a household name around the globe. This holiday is called Evoloterra, and it takes place every 20th of July. It's the anniversary of the date in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. And, while Evoloterra is more about that “One giant leap” part, naturally the “one small step” part is inescapably involved. You just could not celebrate the historic achievement of the first person to step onto the moon without acknowledging the man who was that first person.

A street at night, with the trees lit up in different colored lights for the holidays.

        Now, there are the “traditional” holidays and there are some secular holidays that not many people are aware of yet. Among the lesser-known holidays some are my suggestions and some are more common. Christmas, for example, is often considered a very religious holiday. It's all about Christ, right? Wrong, actually. The date, 25th of December was celebrated by pagan Romans prior to the arrival of the cult of early messianic Jews, the first Christians. Saturnalia was a Roman holiday that took place in late December, and during which it was common practice to give gifts. Indeed, the Christmas Tree tradition is an adaptation of pagan tree-worshiping, which predated the introduction of Christianity in various parts of Europe. The fact is that there is much to the modern Christmas that is not actually Christian. Why not enjoy the holiday in a secular way? It is fair to not observe the religious aspects, and take the whole of the holiday without the infection of faith. Much in the same way that Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, that at one time was favored by Christians. It need not be theirs alone, we ought not to be denied the enjoyment, because they wish it so.

Je Suis Charlie, this political cartoon appeared right after the terrorist attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo's staff. It depicts the Islamic prophet Mohammad skipping along wearin leather harness and boots but no other clothes and he's gingerly tolding cards that read "Je Suis Charlie" which means "I am Charlie". This was a slogan used to show support for the friends and family of the employees who were murdered.        Blasphemy Day is a lot of fun. It is also intended to raise awareness of the problem of blasphemy laws. There are actually still nations that have blasphemy laws, as if that were some sort of legitimate crime. The fact that some people feel the need to criminalize the poking fun at, or criticizing of, ideas is shameful. There are actually backward, uncivilized people in this world and they vote, or have actual power. So, on every 30th of September, around the world, people are encouraged to make fun of religions. The date is chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of the Danish newspaper cartoon that depicted Mohammad with a turban that had a bomb on it. Blasphemy laws are against freedom of speech and such illegitimate laws should be considered a crime against humanity. Fifty-seven member nations of the United Nations had proposed to make blasphemy illegal internationally. Luckily, the General Assembly voted against the proposition. But, many nations – Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Iran are among them – are still uncivilized enough to have such inhumane laws against the freedom of speech. These states have allowed Privilegism to get a grasp on their governments, and now the people suffer for it.

A portrait of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.        One of my favorite holidays is Nietzsche Day, on 15th of October. This commemorates the anniversary of Friedrich Nietzsche's birth way back in 1844, and it's to celebrate philosophy. Nietzsche was a German philosopher, famous for saying “God is dead. God remains dead and we have killed him.” He was also well-known for his Ubermensch concept, the “super man”, not the comic-book hero, but rather the idea that we can become more than the mere men our species has long been. The idea is that when humanity transcends the need for a deity, a mystical father, the superstitions and spiritual pacifiers we will be evolving into our rightful place. I usually give my family and friends gifts on this holiday. The gifts are books by philosophers, on philosophy. It's also good to have some philosophical discussions.

A portrait of American astronomer Carl Sagan, with an image of a galaxy as backdrop.        Carl Sagan was a great promoter of public understanding of science. He was a physicist, an astronomer and a professor at Cornell University. Sadly the world lost him in 1996. Sagan's birthday was 9th of November, in 1934, so on this day, the anniversary of his birthday, I like to celebrate what I call Sagan's Day. On this holiday I think we should watch Sagan's classic that inspired so many young people to become scientists, Cosmos. It's entirely appropriate to refresh our minds on science, to discuss science and to appreciate the wonder and excitement that doing science can spark. Science should be considered interesting by everyone. It's the only way we can know anything with any reasonable certainty, after all. And as Sagan said “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” So remember, on the 9th of November, to go to a science museum, have some discussions with your family and friends about science and take some time to watch Cosmos.

        I like to celebrate what I call the “Day of the Arts” on the first weekend of each December. While I do believe in the importance of function over form, I still appreciate the creativity of humanity. The idea with Day of the Arts is to celebrate the inspiration that art often elicits, the free expression of humanity and the sharing of ideas. It is our nature to share our ideas with the rest of humanity. It's because of this that we have come so far from those ancient days when our ancestors lived in caves and were just barely learning how to tame fire. I believe it is great to visit art museums and to share gifts of art with family and friends. This is the time to appreciate and celebrate the power and breadth of imagination.

        The 10th of December is the Universal Day of Dignity. It is the anniversary of the date in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We ought to dedicate ourselves to the work of promoting the recognition of and protection of human rights around the globe. We can volunteer to help those in need, to support activist's and join them in the cause to protect human rights. Wherever we are, whenever we find a problem we should work to ensure a person's dignity. But, one this day, specifically, we take the time to reaffirm our value of, and determination to protect, dignity and human rights. We should make sure to read the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to make others aware of it as well.

        Common Sense Day, is the anniversary, on the 10th of January, of Thomas Paine's publication of Common Sense in 1776. It was this publication that really stirred the passions of the American colonists to take up the cause of independence. Paine argued in his pamphlet that it is the duty of the people to take responsibility for the mutual good. So we should celebrate this event by recognizing and inspiring our civic duty.

A portrait of Charles Darwin with a quote from him "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."        Darwin Day is on the 12th of February. It's the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth in 1809. To celebrate this day I like to give gifts of science. It could be books about science, or scientific works. The gifts could also be a telescope or a chemistry set, or some other science equipment. Obviously, one should make sure the gift is age-appropriate, as needed. While Sagan's Day is about the promotion of scientific understanding, I think Darwin Day is about celebrating science itself. After-all, science is the greatest tool humans have ever invented. Through science we have learned so much. Because of science we have been able to create so much good for all of humanity. The value of science, the scientific method, and all that we've discovered cannot be esteemed highly enough.

        There are, of course, a variety of other holidays to be enjoyed as well. Aside from taking Christmas and enjoying it in a secular manner, there is Thanksgiving, which started out as a religious holiday. Many people would say that it still is, but the reality is that it's mostly a secular holiday now. Likewise, Halloween started out as a pagan holiday, then it was co-opted as a Christian religious holiday and now it's a secular holiday. But, there are several other secular holidays. New Year's Eve, of-course, and there is Martin Luther King Day on the third Monday of January, for example. There is also Valentines Day, which I dislike, but if one must then so be it. The problem with it is that it's really just an exploitation of unhealthy and archaic societal normatives regarding emotions. And, it's a corporatist holiday, created by businesses like chocolate companies and florists and greeting card makers, and meant to drive sales. Ultimately though, there are plenty of holidays and reasons to celebrate and enjoy the season. One need not give up the holiday season when one gives up belief in superstitions and myth. So, I say to you happy holidays and enjoy!

Copyright 2012 by Joshua Michail
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