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.

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