What does it mean to be a Humanist during the festive season?

Festive Season xmas card from 1907

This article was originally published in the 2015 Autumn edition of Humanitie magazine.

What does it mean to be a Humanist during the festive season?

by Meryl Cubley

It’s been a busy time lately at Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) headquarters, with arrangements getting underway for the second annual Humanist Yuletide Lunch, to be held in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 17th December; and sponsored by Patrick Harvie MSP.

Last year saw Liz Lochhead, the Scots Makar (national poet), was announced as a new ‘Distinguished Supporter’ of Humanist Society Scotland. As last year, the HSS Yuletide Lunch for 2015 will proudly feature a poetry recital by Liz.

HSS Chief Executive, Gordon MacRae, will be giving a speech to a range of HSS staff, trustees, celebrants, members and supporters. And so, with 25th December looming ahead, we at Humanitie magazine started to think about Humanist perspectives on Christmas time – and what it means to be a Humanist during this festive time of year. Indeed: what does it take for a Humanist to be happy during the holidays that are so strongly linked with Christian traditions?

Well, to focus on that last point first of all: it seems to be the general consensus that it is best to accept that Christmas Day is what we call 25th December and that is not going to change. Humanists cannot rename Easter weekend, Eid, Divali or Passover… So, enjoy the fact that it’s the one day of the year when almost everything is shut, very few of us go to work and the roads are empty… In fact, the best thing to do is simply relax and enjoy the day! Irrespective of whats it’s called!

So, what to Christmas cards? Each year, I dread the time-intensive habit of writing festive greetings cards to friends and family – and yet secretly I love receiving them! I’m sure it’s the same for many people. Of course, the scenes upon them are generic: in terms of weather or the cuteness or funny factor or whatever – but they hold no religious significance – nor do they depict a religious scene. I don’t receive any cards that are fundamentally ‘Christian’, but I do receive cards from loved ones that live far away.

We send cards to remind those people that are close to us that even though we may not see each other as often as we would like, those people are in our thoughts and hearts. Of course, the other option is to send an ecard – or simply give the money that you could spend on greetings cards to charity.

Festive period

Christmas presents under the tree.

Likewise, before spending unnecessary money on family and friends, why not come to an arrangement between yourselves. Most people above the age of childhood don’t ‘need’ or ‘want’ anything. And the token ‘it’s the thought that counts’ gift often ends up being given to charity. You have only to look at the stock in your local charity shop post Christmas day!

So, give the money directly to charity (you can do this in someone’s name) or – like my mum and I do – spend the money on going out on the big day and enjoying ourselves at a very nice restaurant! We’ve had the huge family Christmases, with my mum cooking for fifteen plus people.

Now, for us, it’s time for a new way to celebrate.

We both live in a different part of Britain to the rest of the extended family; and after the challenge of the first few Christmases without my Dad after he sadly passed away, I can now genuinely say that mum and I have an absolute blast, just the two of us! Proof indeed that tradition should not win over happiness and surety of what the right thing is for you and your family or close ones.

Post 25th December, I tend to catch up with friends and my mum returns to her home on the coast to receive the extended family of her brother and sister-in-law, and sometimes, nieces.

The key here is not to get hung up on seeing everyone on  ‘the big day.’ See those close to you when it works for you and for them. It’s simply not necessary to see everyone at the same time every year if it causes stress. I don’t have children (thanks but no thanks!) but, for those who do, I of course appreciate the importance of generations of families celebrating together. However, this shouldn’t be at the expense of everyone’s happiness and wellbeing.

For those who are flying solo over the holiday season – don’t panic! Just think that for one of the few times in your life you can be absolutely as selfish as you like! You are the ruler of your own world, so: eat and drink what you like, watch and read what you like, go to bed whenever you like. The only person you have to please is YOU!

Another great way to enjoy the ‘small things’ (they do mean a lot) is to realise that you don’t have to eat or drink anything you don’t enjoy just because it’s Christmas. It has, granted, taken me years, but I no longer eat Christmas cake or Christmas pudding. I can’t stand it; and can’t believe it has taken me this many years to put my foot down and say thank you, but no.

Festivw period

Brussel sprouts – love them or hate them.

The same goes for those who detest brussel sprouts or dry turkey. Should you be a guest at someone’s house over the holiday season, you can politely refuse. Or, if refusing really is going to offend your host, have a very small helping. Or, do as I do and go out for Christmas lunch and choose what you eat on Christmas Day.

There is a growing trend of people that go out to eat on Christmas Day; and one of the reasons it’s so popular is it takes away the embarrassment of refusing the ‘must-have’ traditional cuisine…

If you really can’t face saying no to whatever festive food you detest, you could always enjoy feeding the leftovers to the birds – just watch out for the neighbourhood cats!

It’s also really important to take pleasure in singing at this time of year. It’s pretty hard to get out of it, anyway, and it’s good for you. Not all festive songs or carols are associated with Christmas or are religious, and music of all kinds can be very uplifting and fun. It’s also free!

Another great free thing to do is take yourself off for a health-boosting walk on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year’s Day. Even if you’re not lucky enough to live in the country or on the coast, most towns and cities have great parks – and the roads will be mostly clear on these holidays. Be prepared to wish other walkers a Happy Christmas and Happy New Year. You don’t want to be thought of a scrooge!

Festive period

Take yourself on a health boosting walk.

Most of all: focus on enjoying yourself. Christmas to Humanists means to enjoy the pleasantries, the sociability and the self-indulgence. Forget the consumerism, the ‘must-do’ traditions, the pressure and stress of seeing everyone you love all together, all on the same day. Don’t get too caught up in the competitive rush. Relax.

From all at Humanitie magazine: 

We wish you a very enjoyable Christmas and New Year 

and look forward to launching our magazine online in 2016!

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