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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Families across the globe celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah this week, but religious families are not the only ones participating in the holiday season. A small group of people celebrate a secular holiday called HumanLight. The event was born eight years ago as a holiday that atheists, agnostics, and humanists could call their own. Brad Linder reports.

BRAD LINDER: The holiday season may be a time for religious celebrations, but it's not something that atheists and agnostics can just ignore.

Ms. MARTHA KNOX (Director, Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia): Just step outside, walk into stores, you're going to see all these decorations, all these lights.

LINDER: Martha Knox is a leader in Philadelphia's Humanist Movement. Humanists are atheists and agnostics who believe people can and should lead ethical lives, and HumanLight is a holiday that honors that idea.

Ms. KNOX: This is a whole social thing that's going on at this time in this part of the world, and we want to partake in that. And so it makes complete sense to come up with our own holiday that we can celebrate. It's about including us in everything. It's not about separating us from the larger society.

LINDER: HumanLight can be celebrated anytime on or around December 23rd. The date was chosen because it's between winter solstice and Christmas. This past weekend groups of people gathered to celebrate in New Jersey and California, and about 60 people came to the HumanLight party in Horsham, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of song "HumanLight")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Singing) HumanLight all shine so bright, Lead us through these darkest nights, Beyond belief to what is known, HumanLight, come guide our soul.

LINDER: They listen to music and hear a speech from Tony Hileman, the former director of the American Humanist Association. There's also a professional storyteller who spins tales about nature that teach moral lessons to the kids in the audience.

(Soundbite of HumanLight gathering)

LINDER: In between performances, a small group of those kids is captivated by a big screen projector showing images of stars.

(Soundbite of children talking)

LINDER: Diana Pats(ph) and her husband brought their four children. Her household also celebrates Christmas because it's part of the family's background, but she wants her kids to be exposed to different ideas.

Ms. DIANA PATS: HumanLight's kind of like a transition holiday where we can introduce them to a lot of fun things that don't have the religious elements.

LINDER: Because humanists don't have a Bible or religious doctrine, there's no right or wrong way to celebrate HumanLight. But Gary Brill, who cofounded the holiday eight years ago, says parties like this one are usually family occasions.

Mr. GARY BRILL (Cofounder, HumanLight): As a parent it's been very important to be able to have an event, a community-based event, to which to bring the children to show the children that it's not just, you know, Mom and Dad or one or the other who feels this way about the world, but there are other people out there, and we are not alone in our views.

LINDER: Some humanists ignore the holiday saying it feels too much like religion, but hundreds of people across the country now celebrate the holiday. And there's at least one group in England holding its second event this year. As the HumanLight party in Pennsylvania draws to a close, Martha Knox asks the small crowd to sing along with a humanist favorite, a version of John Lennon's "Imagine."

(Soundbite of song "Imagine")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SINGER: (Singing) Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do.

LINDER: For NPR News, I'm Brad Linder in Philadelphia.

WERTHEIMER: There's more on celebrating the secular holiday HumanLight at npr.org.

(Soundbite of song "Imagine")

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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