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?)