Pagans and Thanksgiving

Multi-generation family at a dinner party
Should you observe Thanksgiving? The choice is yours. AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

Every fall, as Thanksgiving rolls around, some people wonder if they should have some sort of religious objection to the holiday; often, White people feel like objecting to Thanksgiving serves to protest the treatment of Indigenous Peoples by their colonial ancestors. It's true that many people consider Thanksgiving to be a national day of mourning. However, this celebration of giving thanks isn't a religious holiday at all but a secular one.

Did You Know?

  • Cultures around the world have different types of celebrations giving thanks for the fall harvest.
  • The Wampanoag, the Indigenous Peoples who shared the first dinner with the pilgrims, continue to thank the Creator for their meals today.
  • If you're preparing a Thanksgiving meal, take some time to think about what the foods you make represent to you on a spiritual level.

The Politics of Thanksgiving

pilgrims receiving Massasoit
ivan-96 / Getty Images

To many people, rather than the whitewashed, false version of happy pilgrims sitting around with their Indigenous friends eating corn cobs, Thanksgiving represents oppression, greed, and colonists' attempts to culturally annihilate Indigenous Peoples. If you consider Thanksgiving a celebration of ongoing genocide, it's pretty hard to feel good about chowing down on your turkey and cranberry sauce.

Since Thanksgiving isn't a religious observation—it's not a Christian holiday, for example—many Pagans don't see it as objectionable from a spiritual perspective. Also, keep in mind that cultures around the world celebrate their gratitude for the harvest with different holidays; they simply don't have it tied into a day that represents colonization.

Celebrating With Conscience

If you truly do object to the celebration of Thanksgiving, you have a couple of choices. If your family celebrates by gathering for dinner, you may choose to stay home and instead hold a silent ritual. This could be a way to honor all those who suffered and continue to suffer due to colonialism. This may include yourself and your family.

However—and this is a big "however"—for many families, the holidays are some of the only chances they get to be together. It's entirely possible that you're going to hurt some feelings if you choose not to go, particularly if you've always gone in the past. Some of your family members will have trouble understanding why you decided not to attend and may take it personally.

That means that you'll need to find some sort of compromise. Is there a way you can spend the day with your family but still remain faithful to your own sense of ethics? Could you, perhaps, attend the gathering, but maybe instead of eating a plate full of turkey and mashed potatoes, sit with an empty plate in quiet protest?

Another option would be to focus not on the heinous truths behind the myth of the "first Thanksgiving," but instead on the abundance and blessings of the earth. Although Pagans typically see the Mabon season as a time of thanksgiving, there's certainly no reason you can't be thankful for having a table full of food and a family who loves you.

Many Indigenous cultures have celebrations that honor the end of the harvest. For those who are non-Indigenous or those who are unfamiliar with Indigenous history and culture, this would be a great time to do some research and educate yourself or your family on the history of the land you are gathered on. As you learn, be mindful that each nation has its own distinct culture and avoid making generalizations about a single "Indigenous culture." Recognizing the nations whose homeland you occupy is a good place to start.

Finding Balance

Young woman meditating in Lotus position at the park.
skynesher / Getty Images

Finally, if your family says any kind of blessing prior to eating, ask if you can offer the blessing this year. Say something from your heart, expressing your gratitude for what you have, and speaking out in honor of those who face oppression and persecution in the name of manifest destiny. If you put some thought into it, you can find a way to hold true to your own beliefs while educating your family at the same time.

When you have differences of political opinion, it can be hard to sit down and share a plate of food with someone that, despite being related to you by blood or marriage, refuses to engage in civil discourse at the dinner table. While it's easy to say we'd all like to have a "No Politics On Thanksgiving, Please Let's Just Watch Football" rule, the fact is that not everyone can, and many people dread sitting down with their families for meals during times of political turbulence.

So here's a suggestion. If you really don't want to celebrate Thanksgiving, for whatever reasons, either because you're troubled by the oppression of Indigenous Peoples by colonists or you just can't face the idea of sitting next to your racist uncle again this year, you do have options. One of those options is to just not go. Self-care is crucial, and if you're not emotionally equipped to deal with a family holiday dinner, opt out.

If you feel uncomfortable saying why you don't want to go because you're worried about hurting people's feelings, here's your out: volunteer somewhere. Go help at a soup kitchen, sign up to distribute meals on wheels, build a Habitat for Humanity house, or do something else for those struggling with housing or food insecurity. This way, you can say honestly and truthfully to your family, "I'd love to spend the day with you, but I've decided that this is a good year for me to volunteer to help others." And then end the conversation.

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "Pagans and Thanksgiving." Learn Religions, Jun. 2, 2021, learnreligions.com/pagans-and-thanksgiving-2562058. Wigington, Patti. (2021, June 2). Pagans and Thanksgiving. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/pagans-and-thanksgiving-2562058 Wigington, Patti. "Pagans and Thanksgiving." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/pagans-and-thanksgiving-2562058 (accessed October 28, 2021).