Special Days and Celebrations

Humanists have no particular festival days. Some humanists choose to celebrate New Year or “Winterval” rather than Christmas; some celebrate International Humanist Day on 21 June, or Human Rights Day in December, or on the birthday of Charles Darwin on 12 February, but none of these is obligatory. Many humanists simply enjoy public holidays such as Christmas and Easter in their own ways, and there are, of course, many non-religious festivals that include everyone: local fairs and celebrations and anniversaries, film and book festivals, Bonfire Night, et al. Humanists would like to see more of these, and some public celebrations that are meant for everyone, such as Remembrance Day on 11 November or “Peace Days” becoming more inclusive.

For humanists, the importance of festivals and holidays lies mostly in the rest and recreation and opportunities to be with friends and family that they bring. Some festivals are also an opportunity to remember a special person or event, or to celebrate human solidarity. Family celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries are important to humanists too.

Humanists celebrate festivals, even ones that are religious in origin, in secular ways, and tend to stress the ancient (pre-Christian) seasonal origins of some holidays, for example those in the middle of winter or at the start of spring. They may well exchange cards and presents and have special meals and family traditions, just like most other people, but they will probably not join in with the more religious elements of some festivals.

International Humanist Day is important as the only day that celebrates humanism, though it is not a public holiday or a mandatory one for humanists. Human Rights Day is important to many humanists because humanists value human rights as an international acknowledgment of the shared human values that are central to humanism. The anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin is important because he provided an alternative explanation for the way life evolved that made it possible for people in the 19th century to envisage life without religion.

There are no particular rituals associated with humanist celebrations; how humanists mark these occasions will depend on the cultures and societies they belong to and on individual preferences.

Humanists have long recognised the need for rituals to mark the important stages of life, such as birth, marriage (and same-sex civil partnerships) and death, but humanist ceremonies are tailor-made for the people involved rather than following any particular tradition or pattern.

The most distinctive features of all humanist celebrations, whether personal, family, public or civic, are the absence of hymns, worship and prayer, and the individual nature of each ceremony.

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