It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like an Atheist Christmas

They celebrate the holidays, too, you know. Just in a different way.
Photo provided by Maureen Cotton Photography

Photo provided by Maureen Cotton Photography

There won’t be a nativity scene on hand, a Menorah likely won’t be lit up each night, and Bible scriptures about Jesus’ resurrection won’t be read aloud. But that doesn’t mean the “nonbelievers” that congregate at the Humanist Hub in Cambridge won’t be ringing in the holidays with secular caroling, discussions about the history of religious celebrations, and what it means to be a decent human being when surrounding oneself with family and friends at Christmas time.

“We are going to be having both a lot of meaningful celebrations, but also sort of supporting one another in the fact that the holiday season isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be,” said Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, and one of four specialists featured on the reality show “Married At First Site,” which is gearing up for a second season. “I think [the holiday season], it’s about trying to bring out the best in people this time of year—and that means having a critical eye and understanding that not every holiday tradition is warm and fuzzy.”

The Humanist Hub, with its bright-blue lights that beckon anyone with an interest in open forums welcoming visitors to its headquarters on JFK Street in Harvard Square, caters to humanists, atheists, agnostics, the nonreligious, and allies. Because, as Epstein puts it, “people define themselves in many ways, and because plenty of people who happen to be religious also visit and enjoy our programs.”

Epstein said no matter what someone’s religious affiliation is—or if they don’t have one at all—the celebrations at the Humanist Hub this year will offer visitors a chance to sing, talk, listen to music, and spread joy.

“The events coming up are to remind us that joy and hope really comes from people reaching out to one another,” he said. “That’s what the real magic of this time of year is. People really want to celebrate; they just want to do it in a way that feels meaningful and thoughtful for them. I think with the increasing number of people in the non-religious population, most of us do still feel like celebrating at this time of year. We just don’t want to feel like we do it blindly, or have to accept ideas that make us uncomfortable in order to celebrate.”

He added that the “beautiful thing” about the story of Christmas, even if you don’t believe in the divinity of God, is one of the most classic stories of how humanity came to be, and they plan on recognizing that.

“It’s this narrative of this baby born at a time of need and hope, and the struggle, and the triumph, and defeat that came from that,” he said. “And that’s the wonderful thing about human culture. It’s a great thing, but you don’t have to believe in a God or Jesus, or in any particular religion to appreciate helping one another and bringing joy at the darkest and loneliest time of the year.”

Besides the holiday season, Epstein said the Humanist Hub has another big reason to celebrate this month: it’s the organization’s one-year anniversary at their new space. In that time, Epstein said their group has made a lot of progress, including receiving recognition from Governor Deval Patrick, when he issued a proclamation declaring Dec. 8, “Humanist Community Day” in the Commonwealth.

“It’s one year since we opened this center, and it’s really been an extraordinary and unexpected landmark for the non-religious community in our area,” said Epstein. “I don’t know if we truly realized how big of a deal it was going to be for us to have our own place to meet.”

To make matters more official for the nonbelievers that take part in what the Humanist Hub has to offer, Epstein said they are planning to roll out an official membership to anyone interested in signing up.

“You can become a member of a synagogue, or mosque, or a temple, but people don’t think of atheists and agnostics as people that have that membership option. But since moving into our new space, and thinking more and more about who we are as a community, like many other communities what makes us special is that the people involved are also very committed to living lives of honesty and integrity,” he said. “The fact that we are celebrating that, for the first-time ever from our center for atheists and agnostics, and asking people to join us as formal members, is quite unusual and exciting.”


Steve Annear Steve Annear, Digital Writer at Boston Magazine sannear@bostonmagazine.com