A Heathen Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is coming up.

I like Thanksgiving.

It’s one of the few holidays where a lot of people get time off work (when I worked at Barnes and Noble, the only days we were closed were Thanksgiving and Christmas), so that would seem to make it a big deal, but if you look at stores, there is much more Easter and Halloween merchandise than Thanksgiving, as it gets smashed between Halloween, and the behemoth of a holiday that is modern Christmas. But maybe that’s a good thing. Thanksgiving seems uniquely immune to commercialization. It’s really just all about the food. And I love food!

It’s also 100% secular. I have a friend who is Jewish and lives in the UK, and he’s told me he’s kind of jealous of Thanksgiving and wishes the UK had something like that. He says there aren’t a lot of holidays in the UK that both Jews and non-Jews can celebrate together. Thanksgiving isn’t a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or Pagan holiday; it’s a holiday for all Americans. Everyone gives thanks.

Now, I know the Thanksgiving origin story is mostly mythical, and some Native Americans view Thanksgiving as a day of mourning. That’s up to them, but I prefer Columbus Day to fulfill that role (because Columbus was an asshole). At least the Thanksgiving myth is a happy myth, to remind us that not all interactions between Europeans and Native Americans were bad. Sometimes certain groups of European settlers and certain Native Americans did get along. If we remember that, I think it gives us hope that we can get along better in the future.

Since Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks, as a Heathen, who do I give thanks to?

I think it’s significant that all the traditional Thanksgiving food is native to the New World: turkey, cranberries, corn, potatoes, squash and pumpkins, sweet potatoes, pecans, and green beans. To me, that makes it obvious how Thanksgiving fits into a Heathen worldview: Thanksgiving is a feast in honor of the Land Spirits of America.

Honoring the spirits of the land is a traditional Heathen thing to do, so on Thanksgiving we feast on foods native to this land, to give thanks to the land for this bounty. Being relative newcomers to this land, it’s just good hospitality to give thanks to the spirits of the land we’ve settled on.

I don’t know much about my ancestors, but I think most of my ancestors came here from Europe relatively recently, in the 20th century. Obviously they came thinking they’d be better off here than back home, like so many other immigrants did. Thanksgiving is a time to remember why our ancestors came here to begin with, and be grateful they were able to make new lives for themselves here on another continent so far away from home.

It’s a time to remember how immigrants from all over the world have come here looking for a better life, and they still keep coming here to this day, and the mixing of all these different cultures is what makes this country so interesting. There seems to be a lot of anti-immigrant fervor around here lately, especially against Latino immigrants, which I always thought was ironic since Texas was part of Mexico before it was part of the United States. There are “Mexican” families here who go back all the way to that time. They’ve been here longer than my family has, that’s for sure. No one’s ever yelled at me to “Go back to Germany,” even though my mother was actually born IN Germany.

But since I’m a nature-worshiper, the main focus is honoring the land and nature spirits of America. Whenever possible, I try to make a dish out of something I grew and harvested myself. This year it will be sweet potato pie made of homegrown sweet potatoes. Yum!

Perhaps Thanksgiving would be a good time to learn more about your local bioregion, and the plants and animals native to where you live. Perhaps Thanksgiving is a good time to look into supporting local, more environmentally friendly agriculture.

Growing up in a nonreligious family, Thanksgiving was already a time for turkey and pie and football. Now that I’m a Heathen, I like having the opportunity to inject something a bit more spiritually significant into the holiday.

So on Thanksgiving I give thanks to the land itself, which has fed so many people. I also pray that people cease taking the land for granted, and remember how we depend on keeping it healthy for our survival.

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