5 holidays to celebrate this year that aren’t Christmas

Going mad with Christmas cheer? Try one of these alternatives.

  • Christmas is an all consuming holiday, celebrated even in cultures where Christianity never took root.
  • However, some people just can't take it anymore. Some of them even invented new holidays as alternatives.
  • While some of the holidays are celebrated half jokingly, they all offer an escape from an often overbearing Christmas season.

Christmas can be maddening. Between the endless barrage of tacky songs, rampant commercialization, and saccharin sentimentality, some of us can't wait for it to end.

Others have taken a bolder stance, however, and created new holidays for themselves. These holidays are celebrated with varying degrees of seriousness and good humor, but do offer alternatives to Christmas and the issues many people have with it. From the secular to the silly, here are five of the best.

The Winter Solstice

(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Winter Solstice Is Marked At Stonehenge

Representing the shortest day of the year and the beginning of a long trudge back to days with reasonable amounts of sunlight, the winter solstice has been celebrated since time immemorial. Recently, the holiday has been taken up again by a wide variety of people for an even wider range of reasons. Those who celebrate it include neo-pagans, non-theists, and those in need of a break from Christmas.

Celebrations can vary dramatically. Common practices include feasting, attending secular parties, undertaking elaborate rituals of rebirth, and gathering at Stonehenge to watch the sun pass by. The hemispheric event that prompts the holiday has been used by many cultures for their holidays, and the people turning to it today continue a long tradition of making it their own.

Newtonmas

On December 25th many people celebrate the birth of a man whose radical thinking changed the world forever, who showed humanity the light and lead us into a new age. While many have turned away from his thinking, the influence he had on the world is unmatched by another other thinker, sage, or prophet.

That man was Isaac Newton. Were you expecting somebody else?

Dating back to a meeting in 1890, the holiday is only half serious. Named by The Skeptic's Society when they realized they needed another name for their annual Christmas party, celebrations including wishing people "reason's greetings," eating apples, and gifting others science related items. Since Newton's birthday is technically on January 4th on our modern calendar, some celebrate the holiday over ten days. The following for the holiday is growing, and it was once featured on The Big Bang Theory.

HumanLight

A holiday explicitly created for humanists who wanted an alternative to Christmas, HumanLight dates back to 2001. Created by the New Jersey Humanist Network, the holiday has attracted some attention over the years and has a decent following. This year, at least 18 large celebrations are planned.

Typically observed on the 23rd , the holiday is celebrated anyway you want. Holiday co-founder Gary Brill tends to celebrate with family, but others exchange science books and throw large festive parties. There is a general agreement that candles should be burning, and the event should be open to everybody. While many people are happy to have a secular alternative to Christmas, some non-theists have written on why the holiday might be a bad thing; showing that every holiday has a Grinch.

Holiday

Public Domain

The Flying Spaghetti Monster reaches out to Adam.

The winter festival of the Pastafarians, this tongue-in-cheek holiday lacks any official date and is often considered to last from late November to early January. It also doesn't have much in the way of formal practices, so followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster may do as they please. This is fitting, as the church rejects dogma. The wiki for the church does encourage eating a feast and having an orgy.

Several leading officials of the Pastafarians have erected holiday displays at state capitals and are celebrating the increasing acceptance of their faith as evidenced by people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Marry Christmas."

Festivus

Created by the father of television writer Dan O'Keefe, Festivus was made famous by its appearance in the classic Seinfeld episode The Strike. The television form of the holiday was created in response to the commercialization of Christmas and is celebrated by many people today both for a laugh and as an anti-consumerist statement. It is typically observed on December 23rd.

There is no tree, only an unadorned aluminum pole (since tinsel is distracting). Other celebrations practiced by the orthodox include the "airing of grievances" and "feats of strength." More than a few people celebrate the holiday, which has a website. Not least among the people who celebrate is former Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle, who gave his pole to the state historical society.

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Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
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  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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