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Thanksgiving or Harvest?

Thanksgiving or Harvest?

Thanks to Magickal Graphics.

Thanksgiving is often touted as a truly traditional American holiday. As Heathens, we should be quick to note the overall similarities between Thanksgiving and harvest celebrations, but is Thanksgiving truly a harvest celebration, or is it mired in Christian beliefs to the point where we should just ignore it for something else like Freyfaxi?  Here are some of my thoughts.

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

Unless you’re from a country outside of the United States, you’ve heard the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims, so I won’t bother repeating what is common knowledge. For those who either live under a rock, or in another country, (or maybe both) here is a nice piece by The History Channel.

Thanks to Magickal Graphics.

But thanksgiving celebrations were common in the New World even before the Mayflower showed up at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Jamestown had thanksgiving celebrations as early as 1607.  Before that, the French and the Spaniards had thanksgiving celebrations in the 1500s.  So, the Pilgrims were not exclusive when it came to thanking the Christian god for harvest, victory over enemies, or any time someone wanted a party. The pilgrims had a thanksgiving celebration in 1621 and again in 1623. The second thanksgiving probably  sparked the observances.

Okay, Maybe Not So Brief…

People in different states, particularly in New England, had thanksgiving celebrations after that time. George Washington requested a thanksgiving celebration in 1777 in December after the colonial army’s victory against the British at Saratoga. There were national proclamations for thanksgiving in 1782, but it was more a day of prayer.  In 1789, Washington declared November 26th to be a day of thanksgiving. But this was a one-time shot which he declared again in 1795. Later presidents also declared days of thanksgiving.

It wasn’t until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln fixed the national holiday of Thanksgiving as the last Thursday of the November. Franklin D. Roosevelt tinkered with the holiday date as making it the fourth Thursday of the month because November occasionally had five Thursdays.

So Where Does Harvest Fit In?

Thanks to Magickal Graphics.

Originally, the pilgrims probably held thanksgiving in September or October to coincide with harvest and to give thanks to the Christian god for their food. The British harvest festival, celebrated around the equinox since pagan times, no doubt inspired the pilgrims’ day of thanks. So, is our celebration Harvest or Thanksgiving?

Well, the answer depends. If you take it purely from the American historical perspective, then yeah, we can say that the holiday is Christian. All the Christian trappings pretty much tie into Thanksgiving nicely. But if we look at the original harvest traditions that inspired Thanksgiving, we can accept it as a pagan holiday, even if the celebration is during a month when the fields are already fallow for the winter. There are certainly great harvest traditions that we can add to Thanksgiving to give it more meaning besides eating turkey and pumpkin pie. Giving thanks to our gods and goddesses for making the food possible is never a bad thing.

A Heathen in a Christian Land

A Heathen in a Christian Land

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how heathens get treated by dominant religions.  In the past, there were plenty of persecutions — in some countries today, most notably Islamic, you’re likely to be persecuted if you’re not part of their religion.  In true theocracies, our beliefs make our lives difficult. This is why I believe it is important to put things in perspective.  If you’re a heathen like I am, where you live in a Western republic where religion is tolerated, but you don’t necessarily have the support structure to make you feel inclusive in your beliefs, it’s important to keep some perspective.  Five hundred years ago, you’d be dead, and not in a pleasant way.

Dealing with REAL Theocracies

If you’ve lived your entire life in the United States, it’s easy to get riled up about how people react toward you having beliefs that don’t fit the Christian paradigm. Although one of the big principles our country was founded on was the separation of church and state, we still have to acknowledge that Christianity is the big influence in our lives. Even though we have a number of whack-jobs who insist that we should have prayer in school, creationism taught alongside evolution, and other stupid things, we haven’t the same situation that people who live in real theocracies endure.

I knew an Iranian Jew who supported the Shaw of Iran before the Ayatollah took over.  He and his family had to flee for their lives. Think about it. Christians and Jews are constantly persecuted by Islamic extremists, which makes dealing with your neighbor giving you the stink eye because of your hammer pendant laughable.  Okay, so you got some disapproval there.  At least you don’t have to worry about the religion police breaking down your door and arresting you.

Worse for Atheists

 It can even be worse, if you’re atheist. Stumbling across Life as an Atheist in an Islamic Republic is a real eye-opener.  Even if you live in what may be considered a more enlightened Islamic country, you can undergo some pretty nasty abuse — and no one will say anything bad about it because you are considered wrong. Yes, yes, we hear stories of how people treat those who don’t believe in Christ in the South, but unless you get in peoples’ faces, it’s unlikely you’ll be physically abused.

Americans Don’t Like to Talk About Religion

At this point, you may be shaking your head on this, but these numbers seem to play out from my own experience: Americans don’t like to talk about religion.  In fact, according to an interesting post by Atheist Republic, the Pew Research Center (which does a lot of polls) discovered that half of American adults seldom talk about religion to those outside their families. Those who do like to talk about religion are usually the ultra-religious (Oh, THERE’S a surprise — yes, that was sarcasm.)  But what you might not know is that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent actually want to hear about your religion, and agree to disagree.

It Could Be Worse

For all our bitching about Christianity, and how we’ve been treated in the past, at the present, Americans have far fewer problems than we could have.  Certainly there are other religions in this country that have it tougher.  Namely Judaism and moderate Islamism.  If the worse behavior you’ve receive has been weird looks and stink eyes, count yourself lucky.  There are far worse bullying behaviors you could experience. If you’ve been suckered into having dinner at a friend’s place and they tried to convert you, well, you know where that person stands and perhaps you need better friends.  Now, if you’re locked up against your will, beaten, and made to recite bible passages, then you have something.  If you’ve escaped, you had better have reported it to the police.  Being locked up and beaten is more than just a little on the illegal side.

It Could Be Better

Yeah, I’m not saying this country is without faults. We’ve had the Salem Witch Trials, Mountain Meadows Massacre, and extermination of Native Americans under the name of the Christian god for their lands. There have been hate crimes against different faiths. One that springs to mind is hate crimes against Jewish people, but even Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Mormons, and other Christian faiths have experienced intolerance. For a country founded on the separation of church and state, we’ve seen our share of bad behavior.

The problem isn’t usually the majority, although incidents such as 9/11 and other terrorist acts tend to heighten mistrust, and yes, people behave badly because we know that these terror groups have ties to Islam, albeit radical Islam.  It’s common for those of us to look at those “not of our tribe” with suspicion.  It doesn’t make the prejudice right.

Feeling Alone?

Heathenism can be practiced alone, or in a group.  That’s the beauty of it. I’m kind of a solitary kind of gal, so you’re not likely to see me at an Asatru or Heathen gathering.  Even so, there are groups in your neighborhood.  I recommend the American Asatru Association to get more involved.  That way, you don’t have to go it alone.