Celebrate a Secular Advent

In December, instead of focusing on the weeks until Jesus' birth, why not take Advent and reshape it into your values system? Instead of an Advent Wreath, take a log (images of Yule Log!) and drill four holes in the top. Place a candle in each, one for each week in December. Use a permanent marker to label each candle with something that you want to focus on for a week. My family uses Love, Hope, Peace, and Joy. For the first week in December at dinnertime, we light the first candle and talk about how love can help the world and this family. The next week we light the two candles and talk about what we hope for— and so on, for the four weeks of December. You can pick your own words (Reason, Humor, Compassion, and Fun, perhaps) and begin a holiday advent tradition of your own. The colors of the candles can also be your choice, with your choice of meaning attached to each one: In the book A Grateful Heart, M.J. Ryan suggests "White for spiritual truth and household purification, Green for healing, prosperity and luck, Red for physical health and vigor, and Yellow for charm and confidence.5

Other Adapted Advent Activities

• Kindness Calendar. Make up an advent calendar with the days of December. On each day of December, write something kind that you will do for one family member as an expression of your family's humanistic priorities. Put flaps over the activities so your family will be surprised what each day will bring.

• Cosmic Advent Calendar (from Friendly Humanist Timothy Mills).6 The advent calendars of my youth had little windows for each December day, behind each of which was a tiny toy or stale bit of chocolate. Imagine instead a Cosmic Advent Calendar paying homage to the landmarks of evolution! First, read about Carl Sagan's Cosmic Calendar (back in Chapter 1,

Activities section, Analogy 1), which compresses the history of the universe into a single year. Then Google "Cosmic Calendar" for the daily details of December. Arrayed through that cosmic "month" are great steps in evolutionary history. Worms evolve on the cosmic equivalent of December 16—so imagine an advent calendar with gummy worms on the 16th! Put gummy fish on the 19th, Pop Rocks to represent the dinosaur-smacking asteroid on the 28th, chocolate monkeys on the 29th . . . and Flintstones vitamins on the 31st! (Okay, it needs some refinement. So refine it, and drop Dale an email at [email protected]!)

• Contribute money each day for something that you have in the house and then give the money to a charity of your choice. Example: Day One, put $1 into the pot for every TV that you have; Day Two, put 54 into a collection box for every can of soup that you have in the house—and so on, throughout the month.

• Make holiday cards with your kids that reflect your family's holiday values. You could focus on peace, kindness, or other secular values associated with the December holiday season. Remember to save those holiday cards that you get so that you can cut them up next year and make your own cards or wrapping paper.

• Talk about the mainline holidays in ways that make you comfortable and your children at ease about joining in the cultural traditions: Christmas = the gift of birth and the promise of each child that is born; Easter = the wonder of natural cycles and life itself; Hanukah = the idea that light is a miracle; solstice = the cycles of nature and life.

Explore Other December Traditions

As a family, make a recipe from the Kwanzaa tradition and talk with your children about the principles put forth with this celebration: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Do they understand these concepts, and why do you think that African Americans chose these principles? What principles would your family think would be ones that they would include in their lives?

Cosmic Holidays

Related to the Cosmic Advent Calendar idea above: Why not let Sagan's Cosmic Calendar also generate some cool new humanist holidays? In the compressed cosmic year, the Milky Way came into being on May 1—so celebrate

May 1 as Milky Way May Day! September 9 is Sun Day, for obvious reasons. November 1 is Sex Day (evolution of sexual reproduction, 2.5 billion years ago). Kudos again to Friendly Humanist Timothy Mills for this one.

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