Posted by: Ticktock | December 16, 2009

Winter Solstice… for a Change

I’ve been reading “Raising Freethinkers” by Dale McGowan (and others), and it’s inspired me to approach the holidays from a secular perspective. It’s so easy to fall into the familiar Christian traditions that are so pervasive this time of year. Sometimes I have to catch myself and think about what message I want my kids to receive, and whether I want to reinforce the myths of the virgin birth.

I’ve decided to be honest with Sasha (in the spirit of freethought) about all the reasons people celebrate during the holiday season. I’ve been sharing with Sasha that “some people celebrate the birthday of a baby named Jesus, who (they think) has special powers”. I also read to her the story of Christ’s birth, as told in the illustrated new testament given to her by a close friend.

There’s really no reason to hide the nativity scene from Sasha – she’s bound to hear about it eventually. I actually think that the story of the virgin birth is an interesting myth, worth retelling, if for only the reason that it’s so ingrained in our culture anyway. Of course, as an atheist, I don’t feel compelled to hammer the message of the immaculate conception into her little mind. A simple explanation of Christ will suffice, and then an explanation of what our family believes… that this time of year is a time for family and for giving to others. We’re also going to celebrate the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, to which the Christian founders borrowed in the name of Christmas.

I’ve never celebrated Winter Solstice before. The idea has previously seemed kind of goofy, like a pagan ritual that some bearded hermit would do with his three wiccan wives. But, once I get passed that unpleasant image, it doesn’t seem any less silly than celebrating the birth of a god in which I don’t believe. The challenge is celebrating the Winter Solstice without steering my family into a bunch of oddball rituals.

If Winter Solstice still involved druid cloaks and Gregorian chants than I would seriously reconsider my involvement in it’s celebration.

The interesting thing is that the traditional Winter Solstice celebrations, such as Saturnalia and Yule, involved decorating the house with evergreens and pretty lights, giving gifts to the children, and having feasts with the family (and with servants). Yeah, OK, that sounds like all the harmless traditions of Christmas, without the trappings of faith.

So, for the first time, my family and I have decided to also celebrate Winter Solstice. I’ve decorated my house in blue lights, which I’m officially declaring as the secular hue of choice (who knew, right?). I’ve also decided that on the 21st of December I will have a fondue feast and invite my friend and his daughter, who are also secular humanists. The reason I chose meat fondue is because it’s a holiday tradition from my own childhood. Why not map an old tradition that my parents gave me onto new ones for my own family?

Being that this is my first attempt at celebrating Winter Solstice, I’d be more than happy to have some recommendations for rituals that other people do at this time. Anybody else out there celebrate the shortest day of the year? Holler back and let me know.



  1. We celebrate the Winter Solstice, my husband is Wiccan (though not really a practicing one) and I myself tried that route for many years before I stopped denying my scientific leanings and accepted it was okay to not believe in something which is how it started. In that time I learned the same things you did about how so many of the traditions could easily be seen as purely secular. In our home we do something on the solstice but for the rest of the family we still do the big christmas dinner. My son is too young to understand yet but we plan to do a similar approach as you are. We also celebrate the spring equinox instead of easter.

  2. I really like the idea of celebrating winter solstice. I’m one of those people that emotionally struggles (nothing too serious, mind you) with the short winter days, and celebrating the lengthening of the days seems brilliant.

    Really though, Christmas is a secular holiday. It of course carries the Christian baggage around with it, but look at all of the people that celebrate it. Either it’s secular or most American’s are hypocrites (a strong possibility, I know). Therefore I think it is up to the individual to give it meaning.

    Regardless, enjoy your Solstice feast.

  3. Easter is a pre-Christian festival as well. It is a new year (aka spring equinox) celebration for people with a lunar calendar, so I see no reason for anyone not to celebrate it. A lot of it is based on the old Persian new year tradition, but it has all got mixed up with other culture’s new year celebrations.

    If the Christian come a calling asking them what is it with the rabbit and the eggs and they’ll probably go away again.

  4. I don’t feel bad about celebrating Christmas because so much of it started before Christianity anyway. I even go to church with my mom because she’s religious and I have no desire to make her change. She’s Methodist so it’s a pretty liberal, tolerant church and I know a lot of the people there because I used to attend when I was in high school. I’m agnostic rather than atheist, so maybe that’s why I don’t care much about Christmas either way.

  5. Much of the world’s Winter Solstice celebrations focus on themes of fertility and the return of the sun. The concept of “fertility” is nicely and easily abstracted to “prosperous and healthy”, and who doesn’t like the idea that the days start to get longer again?

    Solstice traditions I like:

    Sharing food, especially brightly-colored food. Celebrates the coming of spring, and the bounty of the previous year. Also, tasty.
    My partner and I give each other a hand-made gift of some kind (she often sings for me, so it needn’t be tangible)
    Mulled cider – we make and share this. Apples would normally have been preserved only as cider at this time in my climate; and that cider would be on the way toward spoilation – so it would either have been fermented or mulled or both. It’s a nice tradition, a warm drink in cold weather, it’s tasty, and I like to think of it as a reminder how fortunate I am to have refridgeration. ;D

  6. >The reason I chose meat fondue is because it’s a holiday
    >tradition from my own childhood. Why not map an old
    >tradition that my parents gave me onto new ones for my
    >own family?

    I’m going to go with cancer, stroke and heart disease.

    • I’m going to go with cancer, stroke and heart disease.

      Don’t be afraid of death – you’ll forget to enjoy your life.

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