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Big Community Solstice

December 17th, 2019
solstice  [html]
In 2011, Ray started a tradition in the broader rationalist community of having a gathering around the winter solstice. As the person who started the thing, if he says we should do it differently I'm going to pay attention. But on the other hand I disagree with this pretty strongly:
"Big Solstice" is not Solstice.

The NYC Solstice Celebration is not Solstice.

The Bay Solstice Celebration is not Solstice

(according to me).

Big NYC Solstice was an _advertisement_ I created for Actual Solstice.

Actual Solstice is held on December 21st, or whenever Solstice is this year, with your close family and friends. It is a holiday. It is something you have a lot of ownership of.

  —FB post on the direction of Solstice

Reading the whole post, Ray describes Big Community Solstice and Little Family Solstice, and why he thinks the latter should be the focus. I'm atheist, in a family that's mixed, but that has a strong internal tradition of a family Christmas celebration. Ray has talked about how this kind of family tradition is what got him wanting to make a Solstice holiday, and I see where he's coming from. But I think Big Community Solstice fills a much more important role than Small Family Solstice.

The former fills the role of church, and specifically the kind of meaningful and serious church experience you have when people take their religion seriously and honestly believe. Mainstream versions of this aren't open to or attractive to atheists because they're built around religion. They also don't emphasize the most important (but challenging!) parts of the religion, let alone the ideas I think are most important in general. Big Community Solstice can fill a large need here, and that's why I host one.

The latter, however, fills the role of family Christmas celebrations. These are much less dependent on religion than you might think. Yes, there's Christian imagery and the best songs are pretty seriously religious, but since it's primarily about family and tradition that's ok. Christmas has been secular in parts of my family for a long time: on the Jewish immigrant side it was taken up as an American holiday. On the Quaker side was religious, but it has translated well from the lightly-religious generation of my parents to my, largely-atheist, generation.

Go back far enough and you see many of the traditions of Christmas, but practiced by non-Christians: decorated trees, gifts, songs, dancing, feasting. As people converted to Christianity they recast their existing traditions as Christian ones. This sort of change, where you keep the special holiday traditions even as what they're nominally about drifts, seems more promising than trying to start a competing Little Family Solstice tradition.

I think we should let 'Solstice' continue to refer to the Big Community Event, and if there are ways that little family gatherings feel too strongly religious for you, figure out ways to incrementally grow yours in the direction you'd prefer.

Comment via: facebook, lesswrong

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