The holiday season is upon us! This is a time of religious celebration. Christmas music is playing on the radio and in stores and restaurants, and nativity displays are everywhere. Many of our UU congregations have nativity displays as well. Our choirs sing Christmas carols, and we have special Christmas Eve services. Some of our congregations, those with a significant Jewish demographic, also have Hanukkah celebrations. It is a lovely time of year indeed!
Unfortunately, these celebrations, however lovely, do not speak as well to a cohort of Unitarian Universalists. The 2008 American Religious Identification survey determined that about 40% of Unitarian Universalists described themselves as “secular,” rather than “religious.” Often self-identifying as humanist, these UUs sometimes watch these festivities from the sidelines, experiencing a sense of disconnection and displacement. I have had many conversations with UU humanists, lay leaders and ordinary members, as part of my involvement with the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association. They have shared that this sense of disconnection not only undermines how humanists experience their Unitarian Universalist community and their UU faith identity, but also makes humanists less inclined to support congregational programs, projects, and priorities. There are new forms of faith communities, such as Sunday Assembly groups, which offer specifically humanist-oriented celebrations; some humanists are exploring or joining-these communities, leaving Unitarian Universalism. Thus, I urge Unitarian Universalist congregations to pay attention to integrating humanist-friendly programs and events into the holiday celebration season.
Humanist-themed celebrations during December can help those who don’t find meaning in the Christian nativity story mark the season within their congregational community. UU humanists I speak with prefer at this season to celebrate the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, as a science-based holiday. Indeed, a movement called Secular Solstice has risen up within the last few years that draws many humanists out of Unitarian Universalist congregations during the holiday season. Why not take steps to satisfy the needs of UU humanists for community, belonging, and celebrations within our own religious communities and context by having a UU Solstice celebration? Celebrating the solstice within our congregations would draw not only humanists, but others as well.
A UU Solstice celebration would offer a wonderful occasion to reflect on what the last year has meant to participants as individuals. Participants can be asked to share about the most meaningful event in the lives, and what it meant for them. They can reflect on how these life events and experiences inform their personal sense of meaning and purpose, especially in the context of their UU identity and community, receiving support for this reflection process from other participants in the celebration. Participants might also use science-informed strategies to consider their broader sense of meaning and purpose, and how the understanding they gain can inform their personal journey going forward. To this end, I have developed a number of helpful tools, detailed in Next Steps below. Especially helpful would be the app that evaluates one’s sense of meaning and purpose, which participants can take at the beginning and end of the event, and keep taking throughout the year.
Celebrating the solstice within the UU context would provide comfort and support, and a sense of community and belonging to UU humanists during the holiday season. It would help ensure that UU humanists are engaged and generous, develop their UU faith identity, and increase their commitment to their UU community. I hope you consider integrating this celebration into your own congregations!
Explore Find Your Purpose Using Science, by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, a free e-book (worksheets and implementation tools available for an additional fee). Links can be found at UUCARDS (UU Curriculum and Resource Developers). More information about Finding Your Purpose through Science can be found on the Intentional Insights website.
Review the Humanist Unitarian Universalists page on UUA.org.
Read Reason and Reverence: Religious Humanism for the 21st Century, by William R. Murry, available for purchase at the UUA bookstore, and apply humanist insights to your life.
About the Blogger
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, author of Find Your Purpose Using Science (2015), currently worships at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus, Ohio. He is president of Intentional Insights, a nonprofit that empowers people to refine and reach their goals through providing research-based content to help improve thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns. He is a tenure-track professor at Ohio State University and a member of the Decision Sciences Collaborative there.