'Tis the season . . . for the Freedom From Religion Foundation's gilt Winter Solstice message, which returns today, for its 17th visit to the first-floor rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol now through the month of December.
Today also marks the second coming of FFRF's “natural nativity scene,” which was unveiled last year to recognize the rebirth of the Unconquered Sun — Dies Natalis Invicti Solis — not baby Jesus. The display celebrates the human family, reason and the Winter Solstice. It was placed last year after a religious right group put up a devotional nativity scene for the first time in the Capitol.
Decorated evergreen trees are deeply rooted in pagan tradition. The Winter Solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year, takes place this year on Friday, Dec. 21. This natural holiday signals the return of the sun and the new year, and has been celebrated for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere with festivals of light, evergreens, feasts and gift exchanges. FFRF will celebrate with a second annual Solstice party and concert in the Capitol on Dec. 21.
"We nonbelievers don't mind sharing the season with Christians," added FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, "but we think there should be some acknowledgment that the Christians really 'stole' the trimmings of Christmas, and the sun-god myths, from pagans."
Dan Barker, FFRF co-president, said Christians tend to think "they own the month of December. We don't agree. No month is free from pagan reverie!"
In celebrating the Winter Solstice, we celebrate reality.
The solstice message in the Capitol was composed by Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation co-president emerita, and says:
"At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
On the back of the sign is a poem by celebrated Wisconsin poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (famed for "Laugh and the world laughs with you").
Her poem, "The World's Need," is on the back:
So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.
"FFRF's sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season — the Winter Solstice," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.
FFRF's whimsical “nativity,” built by FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel includes:
• An astronaut sitting atop of the nativity scene as our real-life “angel”
• Wisepeople depicting the atheists and scientific giants Darwin and Einstein who have enlarged human understanding of the natural world far more than the bible or any “holy books.” They were both nonbelievers as was progressive reformer Emma Goldman, representing wise women everywhere. Irreverent Mark Twain is thrown in for good measure.
• Venus. Although Venus, like Mary, was a mythical fertility figure, this image, after which a planet was named, represents our solar system.
• Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father, a passionate advocate of separation between religion and government, who would have disavowed Christian devotional scenes on state property.
• The Statue of Liberty, symbolizing freedom, and the astronaut representing the human achievements of science unfettered by religious dogma.
• Our baby girl, who was chosen partly for simple egalitarianism, and because it’s high time we adore girl children as much as boy children, and to acknowledge that humankind was birthed in Africa.
FFRF would vastly prefer that government buildings and seats of government be free from religion — and irreligion. It is divisive. The rotunda is getting very cluttered. But if a devotional nativity display is allowed, then there must be “room at the inn” for all points of view, including irreverency and freethought.