Across traditions, liturgical calendars enrich the lives of those who observe them. These calendars provide opportunities for individuals and communities to relive a tradition’s most poignant stories, their narrative arcs give a sense of purpose to the passage of time, and their observances accrue ever-deepening layers of meaning as their themes are returned to from year to year. By setting aside time for us to engage with the most fundamental aspects of life, liturgical calendars represent one of the most powerful tools we have in our pursuit of the good life.
Without religion, can Humanists benefit from a liturgical calendar? We say yes. While “traditional” religious calendars draw on divine myth or historic legend to structure their year, Humanists have their own, equally inspiring story: the story of the human life. A Humanist liturgical calendar would follow that story through gestation and birth, through growth and maturation, through full adulthood, through decline and eventual death, and back around to new life. It would take the macroscopic cycle of human life as a jumping off point for the examination of our own particular lives and of the state of the world.
We have crafted such a Humanist calendar. We call it “A Humanist Year” (AHY). We kept several guiding principles in mind while shaping it: a concern for a meaningful narrative arc through the year; feasibility for use in existing communities in America; relevance to Humanist life and values; applicability across pluralistic cultural contexts; and lendability to creative adaptation, interpretation, and inspiration.
A Humanist Year
The majority of the year consists of four liturgical seasons — on Origins, on Cultivation, on Flourishing, and on Suffering. These seasons are broken down into themed weeks which call on us to systematically reflect on important issues. In addition, four festivals — Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn — are AHY’s most important holidays. These transitional times call us together to celebrate the progress of the year. The seasons and festivals build on each other over time, giving the year a meaningful shape.
Season on Origins – from early November to the Winter Solstice in late December: During these six weeks, we remind ourselves who we are — as part of the universe, as part of biological life, as part of history, as part of society, as part of particular communities, and as individual human beings.
This process of discovery culminates in the Winter Festival, stretching from the Winter Solstice to the New Year. Here we celebrate rejuvenation and turn our sights from the past to the future. We reflect on the kinds of people we want to be and set goals to help us grow.
Season on Cultivation – from the New Year to the Vernal Equinox in early March: In order to grow, we need to think about how to go about leading full, flourishing lives. During these ten weeks, we turn our attention to the virtues, competencies, and other concepts which help us lead these lives.
The culmination of these considerations, during the week of the Vernal Equinox, is the Spring Festival. It is a celebration of youth and vigor, and also of coming maturation. It is a time for communities to recognize new members and for individuals to rejoice in their personal growth.
Season on Flourishing – from the Vernal Equinox in early March to the Autumnal Equinox in late September: During these twenty-three weeks, we concern ourselves with the issues of adult life, both by observing established secular holidays and by engaging with various aspects of our daily lives.
In late June, at the center of the Season on Flourishing, is the week of the Summer Solstice. This marks the Summer Festival, a celebration of community and a time for special pride in our Humanist identity.
The week of the Autumnal Equinox marks the Fall Festival, a celebration of the fruits of our labor. It is a time for communities to recognize older members and for individuals to rejoice in their accomplishments.
Season on Suffering – from the Autumnal Equinox in late September to early November: During these six weeks, we encounter the harshest challenges we may face: conflict, trauma, poverty, sickness, death, and finally the meaninglessness and absurdity of life itself.
These encounters force us to reconsider where we find meaning, so we return to the Season on Origins and to the question of who we are with a greater understanding of the importance of that question.
Taken together, these fifty-two themed weeks ensure that we focus our attention on each of the most important aspects of the human experience at least once, while endowing the year as a whole with a purposeful narrative. Though we have worked hard to include established secular holidays, they often occur at times which make it difficult to place them in the narrative structure of the Calendar. For that reason, we include many of these established Holidays as special, non-narrative inserts. For a view of the full calendar, see the Calendar page.
The Calendar, though, is only a framework for a Humanist observance of the year. It needs to be filled with resources and activities that make that observance meaningful. It needs a Lectionary.
We seek to create a liturgical experience that provides for the needs of secular people and recognizes that the story of the human life is just as powerful symbolically and ritually as the guiding myths of traditional religions.
We offer A Humanist Year as the start of a conversation around liturgical practice in Humanism — a conversation that organized Humanism sorely needs. Liturgy is an incredibly important tool in our search for meaning. It is essential to creating a common Humanist experience that unites us as a broader community. Moreover, it presents us with an opportunity to tap our creative potential. That potential in religious people has found a spectacular outlet in the great liturgical traditions of the world. We hope that this project is the beginning of another such tradition.
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