News / USA

Some American Atheists Celebrate Their Own Holiday


All over the United States, people are celebrating Christmas. People of other faiths also have their holidays. But a minority of Americans who do not believe in religion can feel left out during this time of year. One group has created its own secular holiday and they are hoping it will catch on.

Phil Kalmanson deep fries a whole turkey at his home in Laurel, Maryland.  He's preparing a feast, and wants to make it a special one.

Dozens of guests have gathered in his home to celebrate a secular holiday called "Humanlight."  It falls two days before Christmas.

His wife, Jenny Kalmanson, says this can be a lonely time of year for humanists and other kinds of atheists. "Everybody's got their Hannukkah parties and their Christmas parties and their Kwanzaa parties, and it's easy to feel a little bit left out," she said.

Humanists believe in the supremacy of human reason. They say they are not against religion. They just don't believe it's necessary to make the world a better place.

Kalmanson is an aerospace engineer who has worked on the Hubble Space Telescope.  She says Humanlight celebrates the light of human knowledge. "The whole point of humanism is that it's possible, and in fact desirable, to live a good life, a moral life, a happy life, and you don't need God to do that," she said.

Around Christmas time, most Americans everywhere partake in the Christian holiday's traditions - especially giving presents.

But a recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center found that 17 percent of Americans don't identify with any faith.  Another poll among first-year university students found that the figure was almost 25 percent.

Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association believes that's a cause for celebration. "The numbers are growing dramatically. We've doubled almost over the last several years the number of people who say they don't adhere to a particular religion, also those who say they don't believe in God or a higher power," he said.

Speckhardt's assocation has stepped up its publicity campaigns in recent years. This year's campaign had ads on bus stops and in the Washington Metro, and a national TV ad featuring Richard Dawkins - author of the bestseller - The God Delusion.

Speckhardt says America has changed in the last generation. "When I grew up the idea of atheistic or non-theistic way of thinking wasn't even an option. But today with books from Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, with billboards and advertisements here and all around the world, you can't not know that it's an option," he said.

But all you need to do to be reminded of religion at this time of year is step outside the Kalmansons' home, and see the dazzling Christmas displays that light up their neighbors' homes.

In an earlier version of this story we incorrectly reported that Jenny Kalmanson worked on the Space Shuttle, instead of the Hubble Space Telescope. VOA regrets the error.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs