With the holiday season underway and Yule approaching I thought I would touch on a question I tend to get from people during this time; how can you be secular and still celebrate the holidays? Most holidays revolve around deities or religious events, so how can someone who doesn’t believe in any real gods or goddesses celebrate these events? All holidays seem to have become mindless times of passive celebration in which you are forced to spend time with your family (or alone) because everything is closed. But for us secular (non-religious) folk, why even celebrate at all if we do not believe? What’s the point?
While various religions throughout the world have associated deities with their corresponding holidays, the root of it is that they are all just celebrations of time and you don’t need to be religious to know that time is passing. So, yes, I do still celebrate most holidays just not in a religious way. I instead celebrate in a more traditional fashion.
Many holidays did not start with any particular deity per se, they were celebrations marking the passing of time. Even the post popular Christian holidays we celebrate now are simply altered versions of historic celebrations of the year’s time. In spring we have celebrations of the return of the light, joy, fertility, the rising of our deities, and warmth. In the summer we have celebrations of abundance and growth as well as the long, hot days. Come autumn we have harvest festivals and the preparation of the winter months. This is also a popular time for celebrations involving family and ancestry. And of course, in the winter we have our largest celebrations bringing the warmth inside, giving joy, feasting together, and reminding our loved ones that we care. These celebrations are born of the very real changes that occurred in our daily lives that were effected by the changing of the seasons. Depending on your culture, geographical location, and society these celebrations vary a little but we all still seem to be celebrating and pulling together as we embrace the turning of the wheel.
It’s not at all surprising that many witches and pagans choose to celebrate on the Christian holiday date rather than the actual Pagan date (example: celebrating Yule on Christmas). The way many modern witches see it is that they are off work anyway and they have nothing better to do and instead of sitting around doing nothing, they just wait the extra 4 days and celebrate with the rest of the world. Personally, I’ve always liked working on most holidays because I don’t have a religious connection to them, and I tend to celebrate holidays following the pagan calendar. Honestly, I spend Christmas day at home grumbling about how everything’s closed and I’m really bored.
I am sure in future posts I will go into more detail, but a small run through of my holidays is simply that I do the same things that most people do on the holidays. I celebrate each holiday for the same reason that we celebrate the New Year. On Imbolc I like to use only candlelight for the night and cuddle up under a blanket with my pets. On Ostara I have dinner with my family and sometimes colour eggs or plant seeds. Beltane I will have a fire or go to a fire, and if I can find a May Pole event I will go to that as well. Litha I usually try to go to the beach so that I can enjoy the day. Lammas day I bake bread. Mabon I go on a long hike in the forest. Samhain I carve pumpkins, dress up, eat tacos, and give thanks to the dead. Yule I put up my tree, hang my wreath, spend time with the people I care about, sometimes I make Yule Logs and exchange small gifts but on the 24th I have dinner and gifts with my family.
All in all, you can be secular and still enjoy the holidays. I choose to celebrate the year as the time passes. I celebrate my ancestors and all the loved ones who have passed on. I celebrate having long, warm, summer days and dark, windy, winter nights. I celebrate the seasonal items and goods available to me. And I celebrate the freedoms I have been given (even if that is just a nationally recognized day off work).
I am not “taking the Christ out out Christmas” or anything else like that, I am simply celebrating each holiday exactly how it started. This winter season is one of the busiest times around the world for so many different cultures in terms of holidays and celebrations. For this reason, I do choose to wish people “happy holidays” or (considering I live in the North) I tell them to stay safe and warm. I do not condemn anyone for choosing to celebrate honoring any deities either. To each their own and I say spread the joy and merriment! Who doesn’t like a party after all?! The holidays are a great reason to gather together with friends and family or loved ones and reconnect, share in a meal, exchange stories, create memories, and spread just a little more joy in the world.