Why I Have Mixed Feelings About Thanksgiving

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Let me be honest, there are a lot of things I like about Thanksgiving. I think it’s nice to get together with the ones you love. I very much enjoy the food that is served. And I like the idea of modesty and not taking things for granted. Showing each other gratitude is never something I would oppose!

But Thanksgiving troubles me for some reasons too.

First of all, how we think about the history of Thanksgiving is blatantly racist, in my opinion. I mean, it was all about how the Native Americans saved the Pilgrims and they all celebrated together! How happy and wonderful! I think these kids do a much better interpretation of what actually happened (Hat Tip: The New Atheist):

Secondly, the roots of the celebration are inherently religious and the holiday continues to maintain a religious connotation. There is an assumption that “giving thanks” means “giving thanks to God.” (It reminds me of Astin’s “Spirituality” study when he asked students if they were “thankful for opportunities in their lives.” Thankful to whom? He claimed the study was not biased against nonbelievers. Right.) If you say you are thankful for anything abstract in your life, you are acknowledging that someone or something is responsible for it.

So, as an example, I am not thankful for my health. I’m healthy, and I’m glad I’m healthy, but I’m not thankful that I’m healthy. No one is responsible for the quality of my health right now except me. Now, there are people who have contributed to my health that I could thank. I might thank the people who farmed and produced the food that keeps me healthy or the people at the grocery store who stock it so I can access it. I might also thank the doctors that helped take care of me when I had surgery last year. But if I’m going to thank those people, I should actually thank them. Sitting around the table with my own family and calling out their names does nothing for them.

Maybe Thanksgiving is supposed to be an exercise in modesty, but then let’s call it that. Gratitude should be targeted at the people worthy of it. To say it at Thanksgiving either assumes that prayer will help deliver the message or that acknowledging the gratitude for ourselves is enough. That seems pretty self-serving, doesn’t it? I think giving thanks is important, but only if you actually give it. Maybe we should rename the holiday to Thankshaving.

Mostly, though, I think people are thanking God. He sure never gets tired of praise, does he? We’re thankful for the harvest, we’re thankful for our family getting here safely, we’re thankful for this food, we’re thankful for the Macy’s parade, we’re thankful to have a roof over our heads and a safe place to sleep, and we’re thankful for the love that fills this home. It all sounds great, until you realize how ludicrous it sounds to give some unknowable unprovable force credit for every damn thing that happens in our lives.

If we’re going to commit a day to recognizing what we appreciate in our lives, then I’m going to be real about it:

I recognize the ridiculously inequitable amount of privilege that I have for the color of my skin in this nation, a privilege I can trace back hundreds of years. I recognize the incredible amount of privilege I still have as a man, privilege that will surely play out at dinners across society as the woman toils to make most of the food but the man sits at the head of the table and cuts the turkey. I recognize that evolution is responsible for the human brain developing the flaw that looks to find meaning in all things that happen in life and I appreciate the fact that I can intellectually rise above and see circumstances for what they really are: merely circumstances. I can recognize that I have a lot of great things going for me in my life, and I probably don’t do enough to show appreciation to those who contribute to making it that way.

And lastly, thank you to all of you who have read ZackFord Blogs since I started it back in January. It means a lot to know that people are interested in reading what I have to write and taking the time to do so. Truly, thanks. To those of you traveling this week, be safe! I sincerely hope you have a wonderful, loving holiday with your family, friends, and loved ones.

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There are 2 Comments to "Why I Have Mixed Feelings About Thanksgiving"

  • Andrea says:

    Hey, I actually agree with a lot of what you wrote.  I wrote the same sentiments when I commented on my status today.  Atheists cannot truly celebrate Thanksgiving in the sense that is intended to be celebrated.   Here is what I wrote.
    Just to clarify, thankfulness must necessarily be directed to someone. If you say you are thankful, who are you thankful to? Just wrote this to clarify that Thanksgiving without God is like sending a thank you note without anyone to receive it. There may be times where it is good and appropriate to thank another person as well, but God is the author of all the providences of our lives, including the good done to us by our neighbor. Who can you thank other than God, for the fact that you were born in this country at this time in history? I don’t see how those who believe everything is the product of chance can ever be truly grateful, as chance is not a person that had good in mind for you. Either way, whatever you believe, doesn’t change the reality that every good and perfect gift comes from the one true God. Thank you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for every good and perfect gift that you give me.:)

  • ZackFord says:

    It’s kind of funny how we agree because of completely oppositional perspectives. You’re right, you can’t be grateful to chance. That’s why I don’t try… and also why I resist the oppressive forces of religion who force such ungrounded assumptions about God upon society.

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