Enlightenment Day takes place on December 25. Christmas also takes place on December 25.
Some people may complain that Christmas should have priority over all other holidays on December 25, because Christmas came first. They may ask why alternative holidays like Enlightenment Day can’t simply choose their own dates on the calendar.
This argument ignores that Christmas wasn’t the first holiday to take place on December 25.
December 25 almost certainly was not the birthday of the Christian religious leader known as Jesus. There is no authentic, reliable historical evidence for the existence of Jesus as anything more than a legend. Even Christian leaders admit that the birthday of Jesus was never known.
Adherents of pre-Christian traditions in Rome celebrated Saturnalia as a holy day on December 25. Christmas was assigned to that date by Christian authorities in order to try to supplant these traditions. So, Christmas has no primary claim to the date of December 25, and Christians can’t reasonably complain about the practice of placing a new holiday on the same date as that of a predecessor.
Besides, the purpose of placing Enlightenment Day on December 25 isn’t really an attack against Christmas, with the aim of destroying its celebration. The idea that there is a War on Christmas, which could eliminate the freedom of Christian Americans to observe Christmas, is ludicrous.
What is possible, however, is that Americans could have a choice about whether to celebrate Christmas, or to celebrate another holiday instead. It’s this possibility that has Donald Trump and his right wing Christian supporters so upset.
The last generation has seen the growth of a certain breed of American Christianity that is intolerant of true religious liberty. This right wing authoritarian form of Christianity insists that it must hold a special, higher status over all other religions, and over non-religious Americans. Furthermore, this extremist form of Christianity declares that this exclusive establishment as the primary religion in the United States must be supported by both the United States federal government and by American businesses.
So it is that Donald Trump and his Christian supporters howl in protest when American businesses use the neutral phrase “Happy holidays” in addition to the Christian greeting of “Merry Christmas”. They insist that businesses should be required to say only “Merry Christmas”. They want the phrase “Happy holidays” to be prohibited, because they regard it as both politically correct and religiously incorrect. Likewise, Donald Trump and his supporters seek to use official government establishment of the religious holiday of Christmas, and its government regulation as a Christian-only event, as a wedge to enable further Christian control over the U.S. federal government.
When Donald Trump and his supporters talk about a War on Christmas, what they’re really complaining about is the effort to ensure that the United States retains freedom of religion. What they call the War on Christmas is merely the attempt by anyone to choose whether they will celebrate Christmas, and to choose how they will celebrate it if they choose to do so.
So, there is no War on Christmas.
Enlightenment Day exists simply to give Americans another option other than Christmas.
The percentage of Americans who identify as Christians is rapidly dwindling. Yet, Christmas is a government holiday during which public institutions are closed. Non-Christian Americans need an alternative form of celebration on December 25.
Enlightenment Day simply seeks to fill that void.
If you want to celebrate Christmas, no one is trying to stop you from doing so.
Those of us who observe Enlightenment Day ask for the same respect.
The observance of Enlightenment Day doesn’t merely follow a straightforward path of literal ideas and illustrations. Rather, the concepts of this secular holiday are embodied in a set of core metaphors that set the tone and deeper meaning of this December 25 celebration of reason and imagination.
Enlightenment can take place in the dark, of course, with midnight flashes of insight that arrive in dreams and meditations. Yet, the concept of enlightenment works with an ancient association with light and knowledge. As much as we can hold abstract models of our surroundings, it is only when we have light that we can see what is going on around us.
So, Enlightenment Day is often celebrated with images of illumination: Light bulbs, the rising sun, fire, or beams of light piercing the darkness.
On December 25, a child was born. His name was Isaac Newton. To commemorate the social transformation of which Newton was a part, we celebrate Enlightenment Day on that day every year.
Although Isaac Newton was a remarkable person, Enlightenment Day does not aim to revere him. Newton is a symbol of liberation through the pursuit of education, and the balance of reason and imagination.
Legend has it that Isaac Newton came up with his idea for gravitational theory while sitting under an apple tree, after one of the fruit fell from its branches and hit him in the head. Of course, that realization could not have come if Newton had not been studiously preparing the way for it, with reading, reasoning, and research. The apple thus represents both the insight that we seek and the connection of the moment of insight to a larger life cycle.
The apple is the product of of a tree, of the earth in which it grows, and the light that shines down from the sun to give it energy. It will soon rot or be eaten, but the fruit contains the seed for a new generation of ideas, inspired by its predecessors but distinct from them.
There are many people who would have us refrain from eating from the fruit of knowledge. We will not exercise such self-censorship and willful ignorance.
Enlightenment Day is thus symbolized in the form of fallen apples, those ready to fall, and apples with a hearty bite taken out of them.
Enlightenment is not an achievement. It’s a process.
On Enlightenment Day, we don’t celebrate enlightened people. We celebrate the mindset that leads us closer to clear thought and crisp inspiration.
There is no centrally-approved orthodox way to observe Enlightenment Day. No one is going to preach to you that you’re not doing Enlightenment Day right.
Among some of the more common practices of this secular holiday on December 25 are:
Enlightenment Day Salons:
We invite friends and family to share a meal with us, to discuss the most important realizations and discoveries we have achieved in the year that is drawing to a close. Incorporate works of art into your intellectual discussion.
Enlightenment Day Pilgrimage:
One of the best ways to deepen your understanding of the world is to move through it. With or without company, get on your feet and observe what’s going on around you. Go beyond the distance you would ordinarily consider to reasonable.
Enlightenment Day Journal:
Retreat to write or sketch in solitude. Go where your mind leads you.
If you want to exchange presents on December 25, try the gift of ideas, in the form of books, magazine prescriptions, visual art, music, or movies. It doesn’t have to be wrapped up. A shared experience, in the present or future, can build fruitful relationships among those who seek deeper understanding.
Wouldn't it be nice to celebrate a holiday that didn’t preach at you all the time?
Far too often, holidays are used as tools of social control. Their celebration, though happy for some, becomes a dreaded obligation for others.
We’re told not only that we must participate in these holidays, but that as we do so, we must do it in the particular way dictated by those religious zealots who have appointed themselves in positions of Defenders of the Season. They seek to draw us back into the terrible old ways, when religious wars brought the terror of holy inquisitors with torture and death for those who did not sufficiently follow the traditions of sacred observances with sufficient precision.
Now, we have in Donald Trump a President who has taken it upon himself to use the might of the federal government of the United States of America to compel Americans to observe the holiday of Christmas as a form of Christian worship.
In an official presidential speech, Donald Trump declared that the United States of America celebrates Christmas in order to worship “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, a “gift of God”, invoking the supernatural Christian deity to “ask for God’s blessings”.
In case there was any misunderstanding of the theocratic nature of the event, the White House issued a press release announcing, “President Trump revives the tradition’s religious spirit”.
In another speech, President Trump has declared that, “Above all else, we know this: In America, we don’t worship government. We worship God!… I remind you, that we’re going to start staying ‘Merry Christmas’ again!”
Christmas isn’t a neutral holiday of cheer that everyone can agree upon - not when it’s being used as a weapon in this way. Christmas has become politicized. Through Christmas, America’s politics are being used to divide people by religion.
The new elites are Christians celebrating Christmas. The rest of us are being made outsiders in our own country.
We cannot participate in this attack upon freedom conscience. So, on December 25, we celebrate Enlightenment Day.
We choose December 25 not just to provide an alternative to Christmas, but also in commemoration of the birth of Isaac Newton, who was born on December 25, 1642. Newton’s ideas, along with those of his contemporaries, sparked the Enlightenment that made possible the freedom and progress that we enjoy today.
Enlightenment Day does not demand observance or obedience.
Enlightenment Day does not require belief.
Enlightenment Day celebrates the balance of reason and imagination.
Reason isn’t about deciding what’s true and then insisting that the rest of the world accept that version of the truth. Reason is a process of exploration, questioning, doubt, testing, and refinement.
Imagination doesn’t require other people to comply with its vision. It’s a playful experience that enables us to consider other points of view without fear of punishment. It allows us to perceive new possibilities. It’s an immersion in the feeling of what some people call sacred, but is sufficiently confident to refrain from intrusion into the real world. Imagination informs our sense of of beauty and inspires us to create without needing to become ploddingly literal.
In the balance between these two ideals, we celebrate both science and art. We realize that when imagination is uncoupled from reality, it leads us into hideous violence in pursuit of delusion. On the other hand, we see that the power of reason causes terrible suffering when it is accompanied by a failure of imagination.
The Enlightenment was not an historic event that took place hundreds of years ago. The Enlightenment is a process, always imperfect, but always improving itself.
On Enlightenment Day, the work of the Enlightenment continues.
On December 25, we don’t observe Enlightenment Day with vain praise of our own certain beliefs.
We embrace doubt. We seek beauty. We contemplate questions. We discuss with open minds.
We celebrate a free society in which all people can pursue, with both logic and inspiration, the articulation of their own ideas a better world could be.