The Arc Breakdown

This is the second post in a series about how to run your own Secular Solstice. The previous post (“Material Components”) is here, and the introduction post is here.

The Solstice lasts about two hours, with about 20 singalong songs, a few major speeches, and anecdotes that weave everything together. You can experiment with activities that help people get to know each other, so that by the end even the newcomers feel like part of a community.

The emotional arc of the night is divided loosely into 6 stages, each between 15-25 minutes long.


  • Introduction speech that welcomes people
  • 3-5 upbeat, familiar songs that are easy to sing
  • Between each song, short anecdotes can help tie them into the broader themes, and make people feel like they’re part of a tradition, rather than a standard concert.
  • It’s more important for the songs to be upbeat and singable than for them to have a clear tie-in with the theme. But as much as possible, the songs and stories should each begin three major narratives:
    • The hardship of winter
    • The solstice itself, and the beginnings of astronomy.
    • The birth of communities and rise of civilization
  • The Story of Stonehenge makes for a good introduction story.


  • Have some kind of short group activity that adds variety and (if in a public event) helps newcomers get to know people around them)
  • Extinguish about 1/3 of your lights
  • 3-5 songs that explore themes that are darker or more contemplative, touching upon death or injustice, as well as progress in philosophy and science.
  • Don’t provide any more alcohol at this point.
  • Suggested Songs


  • Extinguish another 1/3 of your lights
  • Begin this section with a story, speech or reading that takes the energy sharply into a darker direction. Beyond the Reach of God is a good example of such an essay.
  • After the reading, 3 songs that fully explore difficult truths we face and the challenges ahead. The mood should be somber.
  • Keep the songs under 12 minutes. It’s important not for the Eve section to go on too long – it’s hard to sustain
  • Suggested Songs


  • Extinguish almost all the lights, including the projector if you’re using one.
  • One last song in the darkness, led by two candlebearing singers who each blow their light out afterwards.
    • The song must be repeat-after-me, or very well known, so that people can sing without lyrics
    • The song should be very low energy, ending quietly
    • The mood should reflect that even in darkness, even if God doesn’t exist, we are not alone. We have each other.
  • After the song, one final story is told that acknowledges the darkness, but gives us the hope to climb back out of it, and keep working together for a brighter tomorrow. This can either be a personal story (such as my reflections on Life, Love and Death from 2012) or an open ended story (The essay “Can the Chain Still Hold You?” is a good one)
  • After the story, the candle is blown out, and we sit in darkness for a minute.



After the event is over, be ready for a great afterparty that’ll give people a chance to further connect! Lots of good food and drink, and ambient background music.