WASHINGTON, DC– It’s a crisp Sunday morning in December and on the corner of DC’s 16th Street, adults and children of all backgrounds join to celebrate the holiday season.
The Washington Ethical Society, or WES, works to welcome all people in their Sunday services, providing a friendly atmosphere for everyone to celebrate the holidays without conforming to one religion.
Zeb Green, the clergy intern at WES, says, “[We create] an open space for celebrations around the holidays by focusing, instead of on religious beliefs or external forces, on just what it means to be human, the human spirit and the connections that each person— no matter where they come from— share. [It’s] focusing on our connections instead of our differences.”
The congregation at WES isn’t just for adults — in addition to its daily Sunday services, called platforms, the society also offers Sunday school classes for children.
Each Sunday’s classes and platform vary in topics, music and themes, but all share a similar format.
“May we kindle within us the warmth of compassion, the light of understanding, and the fire of commitment to build a brighter future for all.”
— The service begins —
Often, members can hear the WES chorus sing at services. During special celebrations and holiday festivities, they are treated to music from the DC Labor Chorus.
“Let us go out into the world with understanding, compassion and commitment, and keeping hope in our hearts.”
— The platform closes —
After each week’s platform, the congregation is let out and there are refreshments, discussions in the social hall and play for children.
Anyone who walked into the main hall after the holiday service could definitely feel the holiday spirit.
Children are eating cookies (organically made) while adults sip coffee and tea (fair trade sourced) and chat.
On certain Sundays, the platform service is followed by a community lunch — termed a schmoozapalooza — or a special celebration.
These celebrations, which are based on the rotating theme at WES, only occur at select times but are loved by all.
To observe December’s theme of hope, WES celebrates Winter Fest, an occasion marking the winter solstice. Winter Fest is a combination of various traditions found in winter holidays.
Rather than the traditional crosses, Christmas trees, and angels, WES opts to decorate for Winter Fest with simple snowflakes and silver tinsel. These minimalistic decorations come together to resemble a holiday celebration made up of both old and new customs.
For all of December, members can find a giving tree in the lobby. It appears to be a regular Christmas tree, but each ornament has a gift request from a child in need. Families each pick a request and on the day of the Winter Fest celebration, put their presents under the tree.
To incorporate Jewish traditions into the celebration too, WES involves several types of light and candles in its annual Winter Fest play.
Green says Winter Fest is an embodiment of “putting hope forward and imagining what a beautiful world we could have, [which] is just what you need in the holiday season.”
While the congregation especially enjoys celebrating together for the December holidays, fun celebrations take place throughout the rest of year too.
November, for example, brings Stone Soup, an alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving celebration. Stone Soup centers on similar values of gratitude and giving but provides room for open celebration so that everyone feels included.
Green says Stone Soup “focuses on how communities can come together. If everyone can bring a little bit of something, there’s enough for everyone.”
Bubbles after Platform is another popular celebration, especially among the kids at WES. This one is more frequent, occurring once a month.
Those at WES may not celebrate holidays in a classic way, but they can all agree on one thing — though it can be fun to stick to core traditions, it’s important to explore the real meaning of the holiday season by learning how to welcome new traditions as a community.
WES is truly built on sharing and celebrating with everyone in the D.C. area.
“WES is a place that values every person, seeks to welcome everyone and build a more just world with love and hope,” says Green. “If you’re interested, please come by!”