5 holidays to celebrate this year that aren’t Christmas

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

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
  • 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

Winter 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.

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

The Flying Spaghetti Monster reaches out to Adam.

Public Domain

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.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
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Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

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Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

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The history of using the Insurrection Act against Americans

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The army during riots in Washington, DC, after the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., April 1968.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
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Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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