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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 SolsticeWinter Solstice Is Marked At Stonehenge
(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.