Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to reconnect with family and friends and express our gratitude for each other and to each other.
But, for atheists, sometimes it’s difficult to be grateful. We lose our perspective because so much negativity surrounds our lives. For those of us who are out as a non-believer, we endure ridicule, contempt, attempts to convert or reconvert, discrimination, threats, shunning, accused of everything from eating babies to being Satan’s slave, and so much more!
For the closeted non-believer, living in hiding creates its own unique set of problems. Feeling trapped, haunted by the fear of what others will say or do when we tell them the truth, and valid concerns over being outed consume those who are not able to be open about their non-belief. When this is what many of us deal with continually, it’s easy to lose sight of the love, beauty, and goodness that we experience as well.
When I first thought about writing an article for Thanksgiving, many ideas raced around my mind. My internal conversation went something like this:
“I’ll use one of my Thanksgiving sermons as a basis for the article!”
“Compare how you celebrated in your past to how you celebrate now.”
“No! Those don’t work!! So what can I say about Thanksgiving?”
I knew that scores of people say that atheists can’t celebrate Thanksgiving because they don’t believe in anything and I wanted to address that belief. But how??
Then it dawned on me… I’m NOT the one to write this article! That honor belongs to loving, grateful atheists whose lives PROVE the nay-sayers wrong. Using the answers I received to the questions below, I crafted this post:
As an atheist/non-believer, do you celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, how?
What role does gratitude and gratefulness play in your life?
THANKSGIVING ACCORDING TO ATHEISTS
Adam— I am thankful for the farmers/farm hands that work the ground to provide the meal and for my family for helping prepare it. And for just being able to spend time with those I love regardless of their belief.
Josiah— I found this quote elsewhere, I don’t remember exactly where, but I really liked it:
“The essence of thanksgiving is a recognition that nobody is a completely ‘self-made man’ (or woman). Everybody depends on a million things wholly out of their control and I think a day focused on recognizing that humility is incredibly important.”
Christopher– I know that Thanksgiving was Christopher Hitchens’ favorite holiday and I too find great meaning in gratitude as an atheist. Only when I became an Atheist did I begin to genuinely appreciate this life and the beauty of the world. I no longer live for the next life but for this one. Waking up every day and spending time with loved ones is so much more amazing and precious to me now knowing that our time together is finite. So using a holiday as an excuse to spend time with loved ones and be truly grateful that you get the opportunity to experience our little corner of the cosmos, like Richard Dawkins talks about, sounds good to me. I am 10000000 x happier now that I am an Atheist. I no longer blame a god or a devil or any other supernatural forces for my shortcomings or my problems. I go out and seek my own achievements and solve my own problems. The reward is so much sweeter to give credit to myself and the real people that help me. Theists like to claim that Atheists don’t believe in anything. We actually believe in everything. Everything in the Cosmos that is observable that is. I no longer fear the unknown now that I know that the supernatural doesn’t exist. Why waste time believing claims from bronze age religious texts from people who didn’t understand the world? Just take personal responsibility for your life and be grateful for your health.
Amanda— Lot’s to be thankful for: family, friends, a good job I love to do…that’s enough to fill any thanks quota!
April— It’s a day to think about all the people who make our lives as good as they are. I express my gratitude to my mother and my partner. I think about all the farmers and factory workers and everyone else who grow or make the things that make my life as good as it is.
And Mom & I have turkey. Because we like turkey. But we don’t cook. Because we don’t like cooking.
Cassidy— I think it’s important to be grateful and express gratitude to others. Doing so helps me feel connected to others and to my community. I don’t need a higher power to love my family and be grateful that they’re in my lives and that we’re in pretty good shape. I love Thanksgiving–it’s a great time to make and eat good food, hang out with my family, and reminisce about the previous year’s good events–and look forward to the events to come in the next year.
Abigail– I second what Cassidy said!!
Brandon— I celebrate all the main Christian holidays such as Easter, thanksgiving, and Christmas. I just don’t celebrate them in a religious way. On Easter, I basically just celebrate by buying chocolate and other sweets. I celebrate thanksgiving by just eating ham and turkey and other good foods while spending time with my family that I love and am thankful for that. On Christmas, I celebrate by buying presents for other people and putting smiles on their faces. As well as buying presents for myself and putting a smile on my face. Lol. If Christians can take pagan holidays and celebrate them in a Christian way, I don’t see why we can’t take them and celebrate them in a secular way. My reason to celebrate? It’s just nice to have celebrations. Just cel
ebrate to celebrate and because it’s nice and fun.
Staks— Yes, I am thankful to actual people for the love and kindness they share with me. No need for imaginary friends for that.
Damien— As an axiological (value theory) atheist gratefulness is something I try to live in, which involves a happy state of valuing life as you live. I don’t limit its acknowledgement to a day or even grouping of days.
Ted— Food family and football. We are thankful to be together. It’s always been that way even before I deconverted. No religion required. Now my sisters family holds a prayer and we just respect her and move on.
Luis— As a humanist, the Thanksgiving Holiday is not something I celebrate as much as I pay tribute to the events that led us to be here as we are today. We (my family) start just like most other families, preparing food and cooking up a storm, maybe some adult beverages… When time comes for all to finally have a formal meal, I gather everyone and give a brief summary of the history of the holiday. I cap off the history speech giving thanks to the events that led up to that day, being mindful of the sacrifices made and forced upon many, making sure those sacrifices were not in vain. I then go around the table asking everyone (Wife, kids, guests) to come up with one thing for which they are grateful for in the last year. If any of those events they are thankful for, are due to a specific person, I ask them to thank that person directly, whether they are present or not. That way I reinforce the habit of giving thanks to those who deserve it, not to empty effigies or invisible forces.
Once everyone has had their say, the floodgates open and its food and drinks until you can’t see! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!
Stephen— We’ve always celebrated Thanksgiving (and Christmas) as non-religious family oriented events. We also think of the holiday season as a annual reminder to be generous with time and money for those less fortunate. I’m grateful to be living in this time and place, surrounded by loved ones – and hopeful that in the future, all people can experience such “comfort and joy”.
Karen— It’s family time for us. Food, movie (Hunger Games this year, Christmas movie when they were young) cowboys game with dessert then left overs with more dessert. We’re together and it makes us happy.
Shakatany— A friend of mine on LJ posted a lovely Atheist Grace: http://antitheism.livejournal.com/1759136.html
Shenandoah— Yes. This year’s Thanksgiving theme is Italian. Wife is making a Philly Cheese steak Pizza. Last year it was Mexican; and the year before that–Chinese.Michael— a holiday based on one big meal, my favorite.
Jorge— As an atheist and one with a personal relationship with reality, I celebrate being human. Besides, being Puerto Rican gives me the birth rite to celebrate all holidays religious or not. Though had I been Wiccan, I would have been Puerto Wiccan and at least that sounds funny but I’m not, I’m a proud secular humanist and I’m thankful to think for myself.
Jane— I consider the idea an insult to Native Americans, and I do not celebrate. I do enjoy my day off by staying home alone and doing whatever inspires me at the moment. I have a lovely, cozy home very near a gorgeous arboretum where I enjoy walking every day. We have the most wonderful furbabies …. What more could anyone possibly ask for?
Tom— Well, I’m English so at this time of year we all stare across the pond and think “What ARE you doing? Having a big turkey-based family holiday now, it’s only a month until Christmas!”.
Joel— It was always about the food for me, even back when I was religious.
Alison— Canadian thanksgiving (celebrated second Monday of October) is simply a harvest celebration. Some people add a religious element to it, but it’s always about been sharing a bounty with loved ones and being grateful for our fortunes in life. Obviously many people invoke a higher power to be thankful to, but as a secular atheist, I love thanksgiving! Family, Turkey and mashed potatoes!
David— I enjoy the day off and go to a buffet. I enjoyed it more when I had family. I do enjoy the season and it is still a tradition for me to do my Solstice/Humanlight/Christmas decorating on Thanksgiving. I don’t enjoy the Christ part of Christmas so much any more, but I still enjoy Santa (don’t believe in him but he is more jolly than Jesus!) and all the festivities.
Alisha— I celebrate by eating and not starting crap with my religious family.
Kathryn— of course we celebrate Thanksgiving … I am always grateful for Pi!!!
Nola— I have never thought of thanksgiving as a thanks to god(s). It is a general thankful for what/who you have. My favorite holiday. I love to spend it with my family eating so much good food.
Bill— Is there somebody who doesn’t? I sometimes get the question, “So who are you thankful to, if you don’t believe in God.”
Jeffrey— I would celebrate if i was physically able, healthy enough. People don’t think about the little things in life you can still do with family and friends. And get togethers that are remembered the most and cherished and FB friends, because life is to short. hold on to acquaintances, people you may never see again. Would be nice if we could remember and copy and paste and cut and paste to front or back of your memory.
Sara— Thanksgiving has always been about family for us. I grew up in a multi-religious, some non-believing family anyway, so even what religious holidays we celebrated always had the religious aspects bed toned down.
Forrest— Growing up in Minnesota where it gets dark and to often unrelentingly cold, the holidays are a good defense. However the holiday season should run from November 2 to February 2 which are approximately the cross quarter points.
Eggnog for three months I say.
Micki— I think the idea of stopping life to gather friends, family, and loved ones with the purpose of bring thankful for one another is a perfect holiday for humanists. We also do Block Friday where we block out time to spend with friends who couldn’t gather with us for Thanksgiving. Winter Solstice is another big holiday for us. Lots of friends, lots of foods, lots of laughter, and all by candlelight and/or a fire pit if the weather is good.
Monica— I love it because it doesn’t involve shopping malls.
Joe— Thanksgiving has never been a religious holiday to me. It’s an American holiday. We bring our families together, we eat, we drink, we watch football and we feel and experience thankfulness for what we have and for each other. These feelings do not require a god or gods.
George— I’ll take any excuse/opportunity to spend time with family and friends, particularly when it involves the consumption of coma-inducing, diet-busting, pavlovian-response generating foodstuffs. Eating is one thing that all humans, mammals, vertebrates, and hell, even the yeast and bacteria in my bread starter that eats sugar, farts CO2, and poops ethanol, all have in common. That’s as good a reason to be thankful as any, even if the thanks doesn’t have a single, specific target.
Joseph— I renamed it “Lucksgiving”
Catherine— We use the time off to be with family. I wish we had time off every month like in November and December just so my husband and I can see family more often.
Christian— You don’t need to be a believer to be grateful for good things that happened to you.
Michael— Shelley Segal offers a musical answer: http://youtu.be/z34Mw5D6Z2w
Nelson— It’s all about the food. I’m thankful for a great family of cooks.
Becky— I think one of the best ways to happiness is focusing on the good and the joy…to that end family, food and appreciation.
Beth— For many years, we have come to Dallas, TX, to be with family and celebrate Thanksgiving and each other.
Jean— Love the one post by the person speaking about the possibility being Puerto Wiccan! Thank you for a great laugh!
Tee— thoughts on secular gratitude and Thanksgiving https://beorlando.wordpress.com/…/23/thanksgiving-for-all/
Gary— “Thanksgiving” may have originated as a special religious day, but gratitude surely predated it and has been around since people started doing helpful things for other people. So, I like to strip the religious baggage from Thanksgiving and just make it a special day to focus on gratitude towards real persons, especially family and friends. I am grateful to all the nonbelievers out there for responding to Teresa’s question.
A big THANK YOU to all those who shared their comments in response to my questions. It’s easy to see that atheists enjoy time with others and recognize those who provide, protect, and support humanity.
With these parting words, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!
Good company, good wine, good welcome can make good people.
— Shakespeare, Macbeth , III, 4