Thanksgiving and Gratitude

So we in the United States are once again gearing up to celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday.   My nation will celebrate with cranberry sauce and Turkey and sweet-potatoes and the mass-market tyranny of pumpkin-spice flavored everything.

There is a fair amount of ambivalence and some controversy about this particular Holiday is some parts of the Pagan community.     It is often pointed out that much of the dominant public narrative of this Holiday whitewashes the complex and tragic U.S. history of oppression and even genocide against Native American peoples.  We should certainly look at history, even the ugly and complex parts of it, with clear eyes if we are to truly honor our honored and beloved dead.

The interesting thing about the Thanksgiving tradition in the U.S. is that while it has its roots in Gratitude and Harvest Celebrations, much of the ‘Pilgrim Forefathers’ and ‘First Thanksgiving’ schtick, the mythologizing of Thanksgiving came about as a result of jingoism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of the common era as the demographics of the U.S. changed under pressure from immigration.  There were many cultural and social measures, great and small, taken to ensure that these suspicious foreigners from Europe and elsewhere were transformed into proper citizens.

I suppose one could simply ignore the Holiday, but ignoring problems does not make them go away… and we would be poor Pagans indeed if we ignored the value of Community and communal celebrations.  The Wild Hunt recently ran a story wherein correspondent Heather Greene mused about the possibilities of the Holiday

“Once again, my thoughts return to the secular Thanksgiving – a holiday that focuses on community, compassion, tradition, and natural abundance. Can we re-sculpt the mythos to breathe a new spiritual life into that holiday? The story centers on an indigenous population, the “Indians,” teaching the new inhabitants, the Pilgrims, about the land and its creatures. It ends in a peaceful shared community feast that we now replicate every November.

Can we bring the spiritual into the secular? Can we transform this myth to focus on the teachings of the wisdom keepers who strive to bring humanity back into balance with Nature? Can we rededicate Thanksgiving to that ever sacred and shared wisdom that passes effortlessly from hand-to-hand, from drum beat to drum beat, from the heart to the heart through the eternal spirit fires of this wonderful Earth?”  ~Heather Greene

For me, Gratitude is the key.

Now it could be easily argued that most of Pagan worship forms somehow and somewhere in the proceedings boil down to gratitude.  After all, at some point Hospitality and food and drink are offered to the Holy Powers.  But just as the ancients had far more than 8 agriculturally based festivals, so to can we.  We can celebrate ideas and ideals and individuals who have shaped our world and nation.  We can honor various iterations of the Honored and Beloved Dead.  We can embrace our lives and world in all of their complexity.

We can welcome and explore this most healthy and helpful of values.  Gratitude is a very hot spiritual and psychological topic right now and there are a lot of interesting resources out there on the topic.

In a world that often seems filled to the brim with anger and fear-of-the-other, where various political and social forces seem intent on stirring up fear and division, where the voices of extremism dominate the public discourse… what could be more of antidote than to come together with our families and neighbors and celebrate Friendship and Fellowship and Family and Gratitude?

(did you know that nations outside of North America also celebrate their own forms of Thanksgiving Days?)



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5 responses to “Thanksgiving and Gratitude

  1. Pingback: Meanwhile, over at the Pagan Values Blogject… | Chrysalis

  2. Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  3. “My nation will celebrate with cranberry sauce and Turkey and sweet-potatoes and the mass-market tyranny of pumpkin-spice flavored everything.” <— Best. Line. Ever.

    As a Kemetic, I celebrate festivals and feast days virtually every day. We have hundreds of Gods, and not enough days on the calendar to celebrate Them, haha.

    I also worship the Norse Gods as well, so that adds MORE holidays to the too-many-holidays I already have!

    That aside, what I have found helpful is taking certain holidays I have grown up with and "repurposing" them. Thanksgiving? It's a holiday for Herishef now, on my personal calendar (He's a God of abundance, in basic terms). Christmas? That's part of Jul — Jul was the season that "Christmas took over," so that transition is much easier than making Thanksgiving about Herishef. In any event, it's not at all hard to do.

    We don't need excuses to worship the Gods or honor the dead, but pre-existing (and especially secular) holidays that we've grown up with and are part of our cultural makeup are a good excuse. Especially if those holidays have meanings we don't care for. "Protesting" a holiday doesn't make it go away, or stop "everyone else" from engaging in it. It's simply being angry over things one can't change. It's a waste of energy.

    We can't change the horrible genocide of Native peoples that happened centuries ago. Those people are dead now besides. Those of us alive today are not responsible for that — those of us who are American citizens by birth simply had the misfortune of being born in the United States (and, I would suppose that makes us "natives," too, though not precisely in the same sense). We are responsible, however, for making sure atrocities like that don't happen again as a result of our own unchecked behavior, and we are responsible for honoring the dead. Protesting a holiday is not going to accomplish either of those things.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the statement you made about our culture being filled to the brim with anger and fear of the Other. I say, why not take the well-established opportunity to celebrate gratefulness and goodwill?

    • Pax


      Thank you for your kind and very insightful thoughts here,

      “We don’t need excuses to worship the Gods or honor the dead, but pre-existing (and especially secular) holidays that we’ve grown up with and are part of our cultural makeup are a good excuse. ” YES!!

      I think as Pagans we can often get caught up in our own otherness from the dominant culture and forget that our ways, and the inspiration of our spiritual and ancestral Pagan cultures, are also threads in the tapestry of our culture. I have often wondered about how it seems like so many other faiths take to Holidays like Thanksgiving, or Veterans Day, or Independence Day, and take opportunities to engage in them as religious and spiritual communities. It seems that you don’t see our communities engaging in the kind of communal activity and acts of fellowship and connection that many of these Holidays can bring.

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