Festivus celebrators gather for secular holiday party

Mark Haymond

What does an atheist Christmas party look like?

Pretty much like any other Christmas party.

The Kent State Freethinkers held their holiday celebration Tuesday night in the Rathskeller, and the holiday spirit was in full swing. There were lights, Christmas songs, candy canes and a garland-wrapped Festivus pole.

The group modeled their party after the secular Festivus celebration created by writer Daniel O’Keefe for the television show “Seinfeld.”

Sitting at four tables, about a dozen or so students and faculty engaged in lively discussion of issues ranging from television, movies and music to religious freedoms and the role of tradition in holiday celebrations.

Mike Buckley, junior exploratory major and member of the group, said that he wouldn’t encourage or discourage belief in Santa Claus in his own children.

“If I had a kid, I wouldn’t bring it up. The culture is already going to tell him about Santa. It is a skeptical exercise they have to do themselves,” Buckley said.

Adam Steele, the group’s faculty advisor, had a clear-cut goal for the event.

“We are trying to show that even those people who are not religious or from different cultures still celebrate during the holidays, and that it is not a primarily Christian time of year,” Steele said. “Everything that we have up, the garland, the candy, the lights, the tree, as we have it, so much of that was around thousands of years before the Christmas tradition.”

Most of the Freethinkers agreed. Valerie Gilbert, a graduate student majoring in biological anthropology, said that when she goes home for the holidays, there are gifts, cookies and the rest of the items that are associated with the season, even though her family isn’t very religious.

“We have everything but a nativity scene,” Gilbert said.

Dianne Centa, an honorary senior member of the Freethinkers, does things a bit differently than her fellow Freethinkers. Each year Centa, who works in the University Library, celebrates the winter solstice around the end of December.

The solstice is the shortest day of the year, and the turning point when the days become longer. Centa said that the day has been sacred for thousands of years. The Romans had a festival called Saturnalia, which was the week in December in the dark time of year. Centa said this was the festival that evolved into what we now know as Christmas.

“Evergreens, holy boughs, lights, they all way predate Christmas,” Centa said. Her family and friends have their own traditions for this time of year.

“We light a fire on solstice, and if it’s cold as heck, we stay out just long enough to drink one glass of wine,” Centa said.

Contact Mark Haymond at [email protected].