Yale Secular Humanists Help New Haven Decorate for Christmas

Whenever secular humanists beginning talking about Christmas and the town square, communities brace themselves for a lawsuit. Large nativity scenes, Christmas trees, and anything else remotely connected to the birth of Jesus is usually too much religion for secular humanists to be able to handle. However, a group of secular humanists in Yale have taken the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach towards Christmas decorations.

New Haven, Connecticut, is known for garishly decorating their Town Green each Christmas. This year 38,000 colorful light bulbs are helping New Havenites embrace the Christmas spirit. As part of their annual “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign, the Knights of Columbus have erected a large Nativity scene. Not willing to be left out, the Yale Humanist Community commissioned a 12-foot tall, 9-sided obelisk to be included among this year’s decorations on New Haven’s Town Green.

The art piece, called the “Lighthouse,” is the work of New Haven artist Edwin Salmon. The Yale Humanist Community’s website provides some background about the artist and explains the piece:

After a lengthy process, open to all interested artists whose designs and approaches were thoughtfully considered, Edwin ‘Ted’ Salmon was chosen to create the Green Light Project sculpture. Mr. Salmon is a metallurgical sculptor with a fabrication studio in East Haven, CT.


The sculpture is a galvanized steel, aluminum and poly-material obelisk with nine sides representing the original nine squares of the New Haven Colony. It stands 12 feet high and is reminiscent of a lighthouse, which represents the strong tie across the Greater New Haven community to the shoreline. The panels of the obelisk showcase engraved images of the natural, architectural and humanity aspects of our community. The sculpture currently splashes light as if a universe is evolving.  The future goal is to make the light interactive where it will glow warmer as more people gather around it.

Speaking to HuffPost,

Kathleen Green, the YHC’s executive director, said she hopes people of all faiths ― and no faith ― will cherish the Lighthouse. In particular, she hopes the Lighthouse will be a source of comfort and community for secular people who feel excluded during the holiday season.

“We want this to be symbolic, a lighthouse for people who feel a little left out at this time of year with different seasonal displays that don’t represent them in any way,” Green told HuffPost. “We think of a lighthouse as a beacon of warmth and in this case, a beacon of community that lets people know that you’re part of this community, whether you’re religious or not ― wherever you fall on the spectrum, you are part of this community.”

The YHC began the project in 2015 and quickly secured the necessary funds to bring it to life. “In the future, the YHC hopes to raise enough money to make the Lighthouse interactive, so that it shines brighter as more people gather around it.”

Green insists that the Lighthouse isn’t intended to take away from the religious-themed decorations, but is meant to be a complement. “YHC is hopeful that our having a seasonal sculpture alongside religious symbols on the Town Green will be an inspiration to other communities,” she told HuffPost. “Rather than choose divisiveness, we are choosing to be a part of the wider community by contributing to the display. We hope others will consider doing the same.”

While I applaud the YHC’s attempts at civil discourse, it is ironic that the group’s non-religious obelisk sits on New Haven’s Town Green. Settled by Puritans, the Town Green was designed to hold Christians during the Second Coming of Jesus. With a strictly religious history and meaning, the addition of a decidedly atheistic art piece on New Haven’s Town Green is evidence of how far the city has drifted from its initial moorings. Still, it’s nice knowing that people who disagree can get along in 2017.