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Is Thanksgiving Dying?

Is Thanksgiving Dying?

I was reading a blog post on Patheos about society and merchants killing Thanksgiving.  I found it an interesting read and I had to sit and think about the idea a bit. The blogger, I think, got it right in some ways and wrong in others.  Since I am most likely older than the blogger (I painfully admit this), I can probably add my two cents as to what is happening to the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.

What Thanksgiving was in Relation to Christmas

Before I get some push back, let me state that even though I’m Heathen, I recognize that the “holiday season” is largely the Christmas season.  That’s because the majority of people in the US are still Christian, and even those who aren’t Christian still celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday.  So even though Christmas is just a hijacked Yule, I’m going to be a realist here and talk about what the majority of Americans celebrate.

Thanksgiving was born out of the traditional harvest festivals. It became an official American holiday in 1863 thanks to Abraham Lincoln.  Before that, it was mostly celebrated in New England, although presidents before Lincoln would often declare a day of Thanksgiving.  If you want the whole story, you can read my post on it.

Thanksgiving, due to its proximity to Christmas, was a natural start of the holiday season, once Christmas became popular, thanks to Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria. (Christmas, by the way, was not that popular of a holiday in the New World, thanks to our Puritan founders.)  Even in Europe, Christmas was unpopular by the 19th century, requiring Dickens to give it a facelift.  In Medieval times, it was a time of communal feasting and playing games.  Much of that stopped abruptly when the Black Death hit.

So, by the time World War II came along, Christmas had enjoyed enough popularity to have President Franklin D. Roosevelt tinker with the date of Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday of the month so that merchants could plan their holiday sales.  Seriously.

Thanksgiving and the Christmas Buying Season

The blogger bemoaned the fact that Thanksgiving is being run over by black Friday sales that start on Thursday in the hopes to lure more shoppers to buy.  And in truth, the holiday season is often a make or break time for many merchants. But should it mean that the stores should be open for you to buy stuff when people should be staying home with their families?

As old as I am (old as dirt, I reckon), I seem to recall that the Christmas buying season started around Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember Black Fridays until at least the 70s, but the term was coined in the 50s because cops had to pull 12 hour shifts to deal with the shoppers.  Since I didn’t live in Philadelphia, that’s probably why I don’t remember it much when I was a kid.  This Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving is a headache and one either people will embrace or decide to skip.  It depends on how popular it will be for the trend to survive, but I’m counting on people to use their smartphones and buy online on Thanksgiving.

What I’m More Concerned With

As depressing as Christmas shopping taking over Thanksgiving is, I’m more concerned with the lack of association of the Thanksgiving and Harvest festivals.  Sure, kids learn to draw turkeys and pumpkins and corn, but in most cases kids don’t see turkeys other than in books and in videos and have never stepped foot in a field where corn and pumpkins are grown.  They and probably their parents look at the world through their extremely urban or suburban living.  Sure, they might get a chance to visit a farm on a school trip, but that really is about the extent.  So when they have their highly processed bird at Thanksgiving, they haven’t really had a connection to the harvest.  Instead, it’s an excuse to eat and then sit on the couch and play video games or watch football. And yes. we look at Thanksgiving as the beginning of the Christmas buying season.  Yay.

There’s a town I enter when I hunt in a certain area which has an honest-to-gods harvest festival annually.  That’s because it’s a farm town.  When I saw the signs, I was delighted and intrigued.  If it wasn’t hunting season, I’d be there just to watch what went on.  Unfortunately Skadi has not gifted me an elk this season thus far, so I’m busy looking for those.

Understanding harvest, which is where Thanksgiving comes from, is important.  Knowing where our food is from.  Actually growing crops and tending livestock. Thanking Freyr for the abundance. Saving the last sheaf of wheat for the wights and gods.  Remembering ancestors.  That’s what I believe is endangered.

Thanksgiving will undoubtedly morph into something more commercial, if Madison Avenue has its way.  But hopefully as Heathenism grows, perhaps more people will pay attention to its roots and recognize the importance of Harvest.

When the Muse is a Bitch, or Harvest Time! Celebrating Your Harvest

When the Muse is a Bitch, or Harvest Time! Celebrating Your Harvest

I’ve been looking up information about harvest celebrations in Viking times, and apparently there were a few worth noting. Lithasblot (Harvest) and Mabon (Harvest End) seem to be the two that are associated with our northern ancestors.  These days were celebrated with feasting,  drinking, and partying, because the food harvested would hopefully get them through the long, dark winter….

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Freyr isn’t going to Bless those PopTarts

Freyr isn’t going to Bless those PopTarts

Thanks to http://magickalgraphics.com

Well, it’s harvest time.  Today I was preserving some peaches I received from a local farmer, and it occurred to me that most people really aren’t in touch with their food.  Oh sure, you go to the grocery store and buy stuff.  Maybe you plant a small garden, if you have the space, but many people don’t.  So, you buy your food from who knows where, and pray to Freyr that maybe he’ll accept your thanks.

Seriously?

Kids, we need to talk.

Freyr isn’t Going to Bless those PopTarts

Let’s get one thing straight: I like PopTarts as much as the next person.  They’re great junk food, but they’re not what harvest is about.  (Actually I don’t eat PopTarts; I’ll eat the organic “toaster pastries.”)  Anything that is over processed really isn’t great for you.  I would argue that the more processed the food is, the farther away from you it is, the more chemicals added, the less healthy and the less nutritious it’s likely to be.

I also think that if you don’t pay much attention to where your food comes from and what goes into your body, you need to rethink your commitment to being Heathen.  You may argue that where you get your food doesn’t matter, so I guess I’m going to try to reason through this. 

Our Ancestors Were Farmers

When we talk about Freyfaxi and Harvest celebrations, we’re celebrating the harvest and thanking the gods, particularly Freyr, for the bounty. Most of our ancestors were farmers at one point, and if you go back far enough, they were hunter-gatherers.  In all human history of some 200,000 years when homo sapiens has been in existence, people have been in touch with the land and nature until very recently. You could argue that the first cities emerged in 4000 BCE in Mesopotamia, and while that was very long ago, when you consider humans have been around 200,000 years, we really haven’t been in cities that long.  What really started separating people from agrarian life was the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.

Now, I am not a Luddite against progress, but the Industrial Revolution started moving people

wholesale off the land and toward factory work. As a result, many people lost their ties to the land.  They forgot important things such as how to read the weather, track animals, or know how to plant a good crop. There were still farmers, but many ended up being forced into a monoculture type of growing (where you only plant one cash crop.).  The Irish learned the hard way with the potato famine that planting one species of one particular crop can be dangerous.

Monoculture and Why You Should Care 

After WWII, we started moving away from small farms as corporations bought up farmland that was owned by families for generations. As a kid, I remember seeing my mom distressed to see oil company logos on farms (no doubt due to hedging the bet that ethanol would become an additive to gas.) What we didn’t see were all the farms that went under and got snapped up to plant certain monoculture crops.  Monoculture, as it pertains to agriculture, is growing or raising the same type of species or subspecies because it produces high yields, is pesticide resistant, or is better performing than what is called heritage crops.  The problem with these crops is that they have no genetic variation, and thus simple to wipe out with a blight or disease. Many of them are, in essence, clones.  Clones aren’t harmful to you, unless there is something wrong genetically with them, but the lack of diversity increases the chance of a serious famine.

That Chicken (and Pork) Contains Arsenic

The problem with our food system isn’t just that its monoculture.  The big farms often use chemicals to enhance yield.  In the case of chicken, pork, and turkey, the big farms used a chemical call roxasone which is an arsenic-based drug used for treating coccidia in animals. Chickens almost always have coccidia, as do a number of other animals, but there are other treatments available that do not have the same ingredients.  It is common for industrial agriculture to just feed these chemicals all the time in the food to ensure that the animals are coccidia free. A study that was published on the National Institute of Health site shows that the amount of arsenic in chicken meat is substantially higher than chicken that were raised organically.  This study caused the FDA to remove approval of 98 of the 101 arsenic-based additives that go into food.  Incidentally, another arsenic-based drug is allowed in turkeys, and with three chemicals still at the industrial agriculture’s website, you can bet this is still a problem.  The conclusion of the study was:

The present study provides strong evidence that the use of arsenic-based drugs contributes to dietary iAs [inorganic arsenic] exposure in consumers of conventionally produced chickens. Our findings suggest that eliminating the use of arsenic-based drugs in food animal production could reduce the burden of arsenic-related disease in the U.S. population.

As an aside, Snopes.com, which usually gets things right, has this somewhat misleading title. While 70 percent of the chicken in stores may or may not have elevated levels of inorganic arsenic, the actual study showed that half of the conventional chicken tested positive for roxasone in the study and that the roxasone decreased while inorganic arsenic increased. The study suggests that an additional 3.7 people in 100,000 could be exposed to enough arsenic to cause bladder and lung cancers.

Why Being Self Sufficient is Important for Heathens (and

Pagans)

At this point, you may be saying “Tyra, that’s only one case.”  Is it?  How many times have you heard of a food recall that expanded across more than one state?  (I bet there’s no fewer than five states in any real recall.)  How many times have you heard of problems due to various pesticides potentially killing bee populations?  How many times have you heard how genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were produced so that they would withstand an herbicide?

As a semi-subsistance hunter, I look at the way foods are produced and ask myself how this is good for the land, the next generations, and for myself.  I’m not a rabid environmentalist, but even I realize that we can’t sustain our current conventional growing and farming methods.  This is not a healthy way, nor is it a way I could imagine any god would approve of.  So if you’ve celebrating or are celebrating Harvest Home, Freyfaxi, Thanksgiving, or another harvest tradition, look at what kind foods you’re being thankful for.  Are they from our fields and woodlands, neighbors, or local farmers, or are they from big industry agriculture and maybe halfway around the globe? In the first case, you have connection to your food.  Maybe you know the farmer whom you bought the peaches from (like I do), or maybe you grew an apple tree in your yard and you’re canning apples and baking apple pie.

Being Self Sufficient isn’t Easy

While it’s incredibly hard in this age to be truly self sufficient, there are many things that you can and should do, even if you live in a city.  Maybe you have to rely on someone for most of your food.  Do it responsibly.  Here are my suggestions:

  • Plant a small herb garden in pots.  Maybe plant some tomatoes and peppers in a patio garden.
  • Hunt.  Yes, hunt (and fish).  The meat is healthier for you and it is completely carbon neutral.
  • Learn the local edible plants and learn how to prepare them.
  • Have a garden, if you have a yard.
  • Raise your own chickens for eggs and meat.  Many communities allow chickens.  Check out Backyardchickens.com for lists of communities that allow them.
  • Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and get to meet the farmer and take stock in the farmer’s success.
  • Buy organic foods, or foods that are produced naturally.  They don’t have to have the organic label, but you need to know how they were produced.
  • Buy local.  
  • If you have some room and your ordinances allow, small milk goats are awesome.

Hopefully, I’ve given you ideas how to make a difference and respect our land and our gods.  And next year, you’ll feel closer to our gods because you participate more closely in the cycle of life.