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Winter Solstice and HumanLight Celebrations

Updated on August 19, 2014

Author's perspective and intent

Author's Intent

This page provides guidance for creating fun and meaningful Winter Solstice and HumanLight celebrations. I describe how my family will celebrate this year, and provide some helpful links. Personalize your expression of the Solstice Season to fit your style and needs.

Author's Perspective

Both our Secular Humanist, and Unitarian Universalist communities welcome and encourage our families evolving traditions. For the most part, I am incorporating, altering, and building upon ideas I find in traditional religion, and in the larger, Humanistic community. This is a wonderfully informative, creative, and life-giving project!

My wife and I were raised in Christian culture. Like our parents and grandparents, we were taught as children to suspend critical thinking each Sunday morning. Religious speculation and assumption was a large part of our faith.

The popular God may put a 'face' on the vast unknown. He helps meet emotional, psychological, and social needs. Although monotheistic stories are, arguably, inspired and imaginative, current understanding has outgrown supernatural beliefs, and magical explanations. We no longer assume to know (through tradition, authority, or claims of revelation) more than current understanding supports.

Our view has shifted to a more natural perception. We are no longer convinced that an Ultimate Authority listens, responds, speaks through, or is represented by major religion. Instead, Humanists are committed to reason, compassion, and social responsibility.

Our family has begun to form traditions that satisfy needs formerly addressed by traditional religion. We hope to retain the healthier qualities, and the feeling of wonder we experienced in our youth. I find it freeing to create meaningful celebrations from a natural world view. I would like our family traditions to be enjoyable, meaningful, educational, and to evolve with us, as we grow and learn.

Our family's "hope-filled beacon" - celebrate reason, compassion, and hope

Our Winter Solstice, HumanLight, advent wreath marks a joyful season!

Clickable Links

I included clickable links in a separate section (farther below).

The links included in the text are for reference (and to give due credit for ideas).

No need to cut and paste links.

advent wreath
advent wreath

Solstice and HumanLight Advent

Advent refers to an awaited arrival or coming. Our weekly reflections anticipate the Solstice and HumanLight celebrations. We will have a weekly, candle-lighting reflection and celebration. "Our lighted candle is glowing, making the darkness bright; Shining on our family, gathered here tonight." Each week a different reflection will focus on a different theme such as light and warmth, the wonder of birth, peace, and family. I modified this idea from articles found here Celebrating Winter Solstie/Yule.

We will sing this slightly [modified] version of a HumanLight song (These Three Flames) by Monty Harper.

This flame shines with the light of reason

May it illuminate the wonders of our world

This flame glows with a warm compassion

May it expand the caring circle of our love

This flame gleams like a hope-filled beacon

May it sustain us through the darkest winter night

[Our chalice flame] marks a joyful season

May it unite us in a happy HumanLight

And may reason, compassion, and hope

Light the path of every human life

My little ones also enjoy singing the UU, Chalice Song, "Chalice, Chalice, burning bright, help remind us with your light, of how we'd like to live each day, with love and peace helping lead the way." We light our chalice each evening at dinner, throughout the year. This is one of the mini-reflections I wrote and say as we light the flame, "We are thankful for food and friendship, love and laughter, health and happiness, and life's many blessings (good things)."

Winter Solstice - books and other products

The Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice

"Presents facts and folklore about the shortest day of the year..."

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

"This book explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history."

HumanLight ornament
HumanLight ornament

HumanLight description

(celebrated on, or around Dec 23)

Like Kwanzaa, HumanLight is a modern invention, created to provide a specifically Humanist celebration near Christmas and the Western Hemisphere's winter solstice. It was established by the New Jersey Humanist Network in 2001.

We will look for nearby HL gatherings and celebrations in which to participate.

HumanLight Greeting Card - Customize this card with your own special message for family and friends. (Scroll-over link provided.)

HumanLight greeting card
HumanLight greeting card
Humanist Charities logo
Humanist Charities logo

Social Responsibility

We are thankful, and try to cultivate an "attitude of gratitude". We do not "give thanks" to the popular (anthropomorphic) god. During "Thanksgiving," we will decide together on a family charity to help relieve suffering in the world. I plan to put aside a certain amount of money, or goods each week of December toward that cause. We'll send, or deliver the donation on "Sleigh Day," December 25, in the spirit of kindness and giving (generosity).

Candle Wreath

Solstice, HumanLight Advent Wreath

I customized and adapted an Advent wreath last year. We will light a candle each week until all four burn together on the Winter Solstice. Briefly, the four candles represent: North/earth, green and brown; South/fire and energy, red and orange; East/air and breath, white and yellow; West/water, cleansing and healing, blue. The large central candle with the Humanist, and/or HumanLight symbol stands for Reason, Compassion, and Social Responsibility.

I use glitter glue to decorate the candles and holder. Wide gold ribbon, and narrow white ribbon wraps the candle holder, reflecting the light. I may add evergreens (but do not wish to create a fire hazard). It would look even brighter with a mirror underneath. I'll add one this year.

Solstice Banner
Solstice Banner

HumanLight Solstice

(Dec 20-21)

For now, we will combine the two events and celebrate "HumanLight Solstice" (because Winter HumanLight Solstice sounds awkward).

The days will begin to lengthen after this longest night of the year. Honor the dark, then call the light. Drive away gloom and darkness. Light the longest night with firelight, song, food, and friendship. Welcome the light! Fire can symbolize life, comfort, and friendship. One may honor the elements of earth, wind, fire, and water.

I made this banner to hang outside the house on the Solstice. (The white dot above the banner is the full moon.) I also have "Good Yule", and "Peace" banners. Now, I just need a "HumanLight" banner to complete the set.

chalice candle
chalice candle

Winter Solstice, Candle-lighting Ceremony

We will turn out the lights and honor the still, darkness.

Then, we will light the central chalice and sing the HumanLight and Chalice songs.

Inner Gifts

Using the chalice flame, each person will light a small candle honoring each member of the family, by recognizing a positive quality of that person, and offering a special wish. Then we will bring out a tray of sun drinks and treats. Sun cookies, orange creamsicles, and orange cream shakes are delicious!

We will trim the Solstice tree and top it with a brilliant sun ornament as we did last year. My children enjoy three riddles that lead them around the house, and finally to a special, HumanLight Solstice Present from their parents. We will sing sun songs like: Mister Sun, Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles, Sunshine by John Denver, and You Are My Sunshine

Some of our Solstice Carols include Lord of the Dance (original, Pagan lyrics) Merry Gentlemen (original Pagan lyrics), We Wish You a Merry Solstice, Have Yourself a Merry Little Solstice, Welcome Yule, Deck the Halls, Holly and Ivy (original Pagan lyrics, see Norman Iles Carols for Solstice) For "although it's been said many times, many ways, [happy Solstice] to you".

sing of Yuletide treasure
sing of Yuletide treasure

Sleigh Day Eve

story and song night (Dec 24)

During the day, we celebrate our oldest son's birthday, so the day is packed with activities. Toward evening, we will read the condensed Jesus, Buddha, and Confucius birth stories which are very similar in their symbolic message. Each spiritual leader becomes a "different kind of king". Each story stresses the important of compassion and social justice. Each becomes a teacher, a good example, an ethical leader, who follows his conscience.

We attend a Christmas service with our UU community where we hear the Jesus birth story, listen to beautiful music, and sing by candlelight. After that, for us, the evening will become "Sleigh Day Eve". At some point, we will read the Saint Nicholas' story and history. In the story, St. Nick gave anonymously without expecting anything in return. He hid his identity by throwing gold through an open window to needy families.

Following tradition, we hang our stockings "by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there." We also leave him something like (soy)milk and cookies. "Santa" reminds us to think of others, and to show kindness and generosity.

Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas)

(practiced with care, and some trepidation)

The Santa Claus tradition is also a critical thinking exercise for children. As time goes on, they trade the literal Santa Claus, for a symbolic, spirit of giving. This process of discovery may be applied to other magical stories. They will probably come to the conclusion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and will learn the meaning of "credible evidence".

I don't "lie" to my children. I present a magical story, which seems to be supported with circumstantial evidence - filled stockings, and a disappearing Santa snack. This is misleading, but I'm sure my youngest will figure it out on his own, just as my older children did. Now, they just laugh and wink as I matter-of-factly tell of Santa and his flying reindeer. (They also know about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.) We enjoy the same fun with the "Spring Bunny" who fills their baskets during a different holiday season.

Santa flies around the world on his sleigh pulled by reindeer. To show an example of kindness and generosity, he fills shoes, or stockings with presents, while children sleep. Is the Santa story really true? That is the Sleigh Day Riddle. Each time you try to solve the riddle, you may learn something new.

The Grinch found that [Sleigh Day] can't be bought in a store. [Sleigh Day], it seems, means "a little bit more". We will read Clement Clarke Moore's, "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas". Twas the night before [Sleigh Day], when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight, "Happy [Sleigh Day] to all, and to all a good night!"

We have fun singing the classic, Santa Clause and St. Nick songs. In December, I sing the children to sleep with all the secular Holiday, and Christmas classics, but I may change some of the lyrics or leave out some versus. I explain that Christians have been inspired to compose many beautiful songs about the Baby Jesus story like Do you Hear What I Hear?, Away in a Manger, Silent Night, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, We Three Kings, and many others.

Insert the name that best fits the occasion for you, as you sing a favorite holiday song. Because Sleigh Day, Christmas, and Solstice all have two syllables, they are interchangeable. HumanLight usually requires a momentary acceleration in tempo because of the extra syllable.

door wreath
door wreath

Sleigh Day

(Dec 25)

This day is about unhurried family time, generosity, wonder, the role of myth and magic, love, joy and happiness. The children wake up early and find that 'Santa' has eaten his snack during the night, and filled their stockings with treats, and fun surprises. They spend the morning playing, coloring, assembling, and building. Then we enjoy a big breakfast. This is also when we open presents from the grandparents, whose packages are found tucked under the Solstice Tree.

A very merry HumanLight Solstice to you and your family!

"May [life] send you a happy new year!"

Chalica chalices
Chalica chalices


A December, UU celebration (Humanistic)

Chalica is seven days long and runs from the first Monday in December through to Sunday. Each day represents a different Unitarian Universalist Principle: a chalice is lit each day and actions, gifts, or volunteering that expresses the day's Principle are given and received. One can have seven different chalices or one common chalice.

I think these principles are wonderful guides and will be helpful for our sense of identity as a UU Humanist family. This celebration is a good way to discuss, and commit these ideas to memory. Other important history, and famous Humanists could be added in future, Chalica celebrations. This is not a Dogmatic doctrine. UUs may alter or change these Principles through due, democratic process.

Monday: We light our chalice for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Tuesday: We light our chalice for justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

Wednesday: We light our chalice for acceptance of one another and encouragement to "spiritual" growth (or, to promote health and vitality).

Thursday: We light our chalice for a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Friday: We light our chalice for the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in society at large.

Saturday: We light our chalice for the goal of world peace, liberty and justice for all.

Sunday: We light our chalice for respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Another happy, loving, Humanist!

Chalica, Humanist painting
Chalica, Humanist painting

I found this wonderful painting on the site of a "Montessori teacher and Mom" (image is a clickable link). She gives more ideas for celebrating Chalica as a family.

Religious Education

Religious education is a part of our seasonal celebrations. It fosters greater awareness and understanding. Mythology becomes apparent simply by comparing stories from different belief systems, and explaining their history. The healthier, symbolic messages found in "wisdom traditions" may be celebrated more convincingly from an evolving, natural perspective.

dreidel game
dreidel game

Hanukkah awareness

Hanukkah awareness could be practiced any time before the 29th. After Sleigh Day may work better. We could have a Dreidel Day before the winter break ends. Hanukkah begins at sunset on Tuesday, December 20, 2011, and ends at sunset on Wednesday, December 28, 2011. We could read a condensed version of the Hanukkah story and watch the related video on

I was once told (by a Maryknoll Priest), that it is a Jewish tradition to light a candle to the past remembering a special person who has died. Then, light a candle to the future and express a hope. Finally, light a candle to the present saying, "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery; this moment is a gift, that's why we call it the 'present'." It would be fun to include the Dreidel song and maybe play the game. "Dreidel (3x), I made it out of clay, dreidel (3x), my dreidel I will play..."

Winter Solstice - History and Celebration ideas

"Many of the customs associated with the Winter Solstice (and therefore with other midwinter festivals such as St Lucy's Day, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, New Years and Twelfth Night) derive from stories of a mighty battle between the dark and the light, which is won, naturally, by the light. Other traditions record this as the time a savior (the Sun-Child) is born to a virgin mother."

- Waverly Fitzgerald

Winter Solstice on Amazon

(Randomly chosen by Amazon)

This page provides a service to Humanists. Curious onlookers are certainly welcome. However, this is not a place to debate world views. I'd like this page to focus on fun and meaningful, winter celebration. 'Tis the season to be jolly!

Comments and Suggestions

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      8 years ago

      Hi Brian --

      i enjoyed reading about the wonderful holiday traditions you and your family have created and about how you''re incorporating the HumanLight holiday! You've really put a lot of thought, and a lot of heart, into it! I'd like to speak with you and/or meet you, if that's okay? Where are you located? I'm based in NJ.

      If you can, please send me a message/email on Facebook. Thanks!

      - Patrick Colucci

      btw: one small correction for you: The song "These Three Flames" was composed by Monty Harper. you've apparently mixed it up with the song "HumanLight" by Sonny Meadows.


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