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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.

Enjoy a FREE Thanksgiving Wallpaper from The Rational Heathen

Enjoy a FREE Thanksgiving Wallpaper from The Rational Heathen

Just for my fans, enjoy a free copy of this Thanksgiving wallpaper.  Enjoy it while shopping on CyberMonday for your holiday bargains.  Get it FREE HERE on my Patreon page.

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving with Christian Relatives

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving with Christian Relatives

It’s that time of year again.  It’s the time when we have to see our families, many of whom are of a Christian faith, and celebrate the holidays together.  If your family get togethers are something you dread, I have some recommendations for keeping true to being a Heathen while celebrating Thanksgiving.

Consider Your Support System

Oddly enough, how you handle Thanksgiving depends a lot on your family’s religious views.  If you’re the only Heathen and 20 relatives are Christian, you’re going to have a harder time than someone whose family is mostly Heathen, or their family is a mix of Christians, agnostics, Jews, Wiccans, and atheists.  You’re more likely to have more acceptance and more support with the latter two, since your family is at least used to the concepts of having relatives of different faiths.  This of course doesn’t account for those warring families who do not get along.  If you have one of those, I’d sincerely suggest you skip the holidays and celebrate it with like-minded friends or go out to eat.  Honestly, you don’t need that kind of stress in your life.

If You’re Having Thanksgiving at Your House

Having Thanksgiving at your house can be simple enough when it comes to celebrating it.  Consider it a harvest festival and look on it as a way to celebrate the end of hunting season, the end of harvest, and the beginning of the Yule month. Look at the images we use for Thanksgiving: turkey, cornucopia, pumpkins, gourds, fall leaves, and colorful Indian corn. Yes, we also use pilgrims and Native Americans as images as well, but if you want to avoid the Christian connotations, you can emphasize the friendship aspect.  If it hadn’t been for the Native Americans, it’s unlikely the pilgrims would have survived.

Because you’re inviting your relatives to your home, you have quite a bit of power when it comes to ground rules and behaviors.  Which means if they want to enjoy Thanksgiving with you, you can insist that there is no talk about religion and no arguments.  (And stick to this rule.  Yes, you may have to tell them to leave if they misbehave).

Here are some ideas for compromise:

  • Decorate your home with harvest images and nonreligious Thanksgiving images.
  • Make traditional recipes, plus recipes from Viking era feasts.
  • Serve mead.  
  • When it comes time to say a prayer, ask that each of your guests silently pray.
  • End the prayer session by saying, “We give thanks for this food and for each other. Let us remember those who are no longer with us, and let us be thankful for the time we had with them.  I propose a toast to <name deceased family members and friends>”  (Yes, I know that many of us still consider our ancestors with us, but for the sake of euphemism, let’s leave it at “no longer with us.” 
  • Focus on the positives with your Christian relatives.  Compliment new clothes, a tasty dish they brought, or a new style.  It’s hard to be negative toward someone who is complimenting you.
  • If someone brings us your Heathenry in a negative way, tell them gently that this is not the time to discuss it, and that you’ll be happy to talk to them about it later. If they insist, then remind them of the ground rules.  If they persist, you may have to tell them to leave if they are rude.

Thanksgiving at a Relative’s House 

Unless you have some open-minded Christian relatives, or relatives that are basically agnostic but identify as Christian, you could be walking into some pretty dangerous territory if you’re the only Heathen in a majority of Christians — and they know it.  They also have a lot of power because you’ve come into their home.  It’s different than them coming to your home, because you are being hospitable to them and they are there by your graces.  As above,

  • Focus on the positives with your Christian relatives.  Compliment new clothes, a tasty dish they brought, or a new style.  It’s hard to be negative toward someone who is complimenting you.
  • If someone brings us your Heathenry in a negative way, tell them gently that this is not the time to discuss it, and that you’ll be happy to talk to them about it later.

If they don’t know you’re Heathen, keep a low profile and just go with the flow. You don’t have to say their prayers or talk religion, just keep the conversation at Thanksgiving and get profoundly interested on what is going on in their lives.  You’ll find that people — even your relatives — like to talk about themselves, so ask some questions, sit back, and listen.

If your relatives know you’re Heathen and are open minded — awesome.   You might even have an interesting discussion about faiths.  But again, you’re there for each other company and not a debating match.  Often if some other relatives who follow other faiths are there, it can be a very positive experience.

Observe Your Own Heathen Rituals

Before the guests arrive, or before you leave to attend a Thanksgiving dinner, take time to thank the gods, ancestors, and wights for their aid and support.  Offer them a prayer you wrote and meditate on how fortunate you’ve been over the year.  Even if you’ve had a difficult year, the fact that you’re alive and breathing may be enough to say thanks.  Let the gods help clear your thoughts and help you do what is right.  When the dinner has ended and you’re home and the guests (if any) are gone, offer a blot to the gods as a thanks.  Mead or wine works well.

A Few Words About Dogmatic or Fundamentalist Families

If you have staunchly Christian family, or a family that is dogmatic when it comes to their faith, and you don’t have something more important to do (like make ice), you can go to Thanksgiving dinner with them, but I don’t recommend it.  You can expect some sort of abuse if they’re the types who have taken exception to your choice in religion. No matter how hard you try to explain your side, they will not be enlightened enough to believe anything other than you are going to the Christian hell (or insert your relative’s religion’s version of fire and brimstone here). Unless there are ground rules in place, i.e., no talk of religion and no attempts at “intervention” or conversion, you will have a miserable time and feel like a prisoner trapped with a bunch of raving manics.

Okay, maybe that’s a little strong.  But you get my point.  I grew up in such a family where if you didn’t tow the line (whatever line that was), they used holidays to gang up on you and hammer away.  I wasn’t the only one brow beaten, either.  Oddly enough, it was not over religion, although my family has since been worried for “my eternal soul.”  Hels bells, kids, you can have a peaceful dinner at a restaurant for a lot less than the psychiatric counseling you’ll probably need after undergoing one of those holidays.  To this day, the memory of Easter where my family was mad at me for something (fuck if I can remember) and took it out on me and my husband, and then after we beat feet, took it out on my mother-in-law.  I stopped going to Easter dinners because of that (sorry, mom, I’ve got to wash my hair).

I know I’ve probably given you no hope when it comes to families, religion, and being a Heathen. But I want to point out that having really negative experiences over holidays make the holidays even more stressful than they should be. Maybe you’ve had better luck with your family than I have, but if you do have a family that is insistent on you converting to their religion, it’s an uphill battle to get them to accept you.

My Thanksgiving will be mostly not stressful because other than my husband, my relatives think I’m agnostic or atheist.  Which is fine by me. The gods know where I stand, and that’s fine by me.

You can have a fairly stress-free holiday, and I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox, Mabon, or Winter Finding

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox, Mabon, or Winter Finding

Our next big seasonal date to look forward to is the Autumnal or Autumn Equinox in the northern

hemisphere.  Often called Mabon or Winter Finding by pagans, there are a lot of good reasons to celebrate the season.

Mabon or Autumn(al) Equinox takes its name from a Welsh god, rather than a Norse one, but seeing as many of the Northern gods are interconnected, I’m hesitant to dismiss the name or the celebration outright. A later name for Mabon is Winter Finding to make it more Asatru-like. That being said, our celebration may have “Wiccatru” roots, which if you’re a recon, you may simply disdain the idea of celebrating it and move onto something more “authentic.”  That’s cool, but holidays do shift around, and I suspect late harvest was also celebrated by our ancestors.

Plus, it’s as good of time as any to celebrate the end of the growing season and the arrival of fall.

What the Autumnal Equinox is

The autumn equinox marks the official beginning of autumn.  Never mind that you’ve felt a shift in weather patterns sometime in August or early September, we generally consider the equinox to be the beginning of fall. The equinox, for those curious, isn’t when the day is equally night and day, although it’s damn close and I’d say for all intents and purposes, we can call it that.  What the equinox actually marks is when the sun crosses the celestial equator for the first time since spring equinox.  The celestial equator is an imaginary line above the planet above the actual equator.  The sun doesn’t really move relative to the solar system–our planet moves.  Our planet is tilted so that when it reaches a certain point in its revolution around the sun, the sun dips to the south on the autumn equinox and moves to the north on the vernal or spring equinox. It’s at this point we start really racing toward less light, although the summer solstice marks the high point of the daylight hours and we begin decreasing light after that.

The earth is actually spinning like a top, only relatively slower because of the magnitude.  The pole actually wobbles and will be in a different place about 10000 years from now. 

So, Did Our Ancestors Celebrate Winter Finding?

If you want to be really picky, chances are Winter Finding wasn’t celebrated.  Instead, our ancestors may have celebrated Alfarblót which occurred around October 22nd.  Alfarblót was a more private affair for families, even though it was a harvest festival that honored Freyr and Freyja. Sort of a Thanksgiving for Heathens.

So, if they didn’t celebrate Winter Finding, should we ignore it?  Probably not.  It is, after all, the equinox, which means it’s a good of time as any to have a celebration.  It’s a goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn.  It’s also a good time to bid farewell to the harvest.  I read that it’s a good time to get mead started (yeah, I can see that) in time for Yule.  So, maybe the equinox is a time for a community harvest celebration and Alfarblót for a more private celebration?

Then, What Should We Do with Thanksgiving? 

Thanks to Magickal Graphics

The November Thanksgiving is an American holiday that has its roots in harvest festivals but has been co-opted by Christians to give thanks to their god. I suppose as a Heathen one could get stubborn and decide to not celebrate it since the fields are most likely fallow and the foods have been already put up. But at the same time, hunting season is mostly over, which gives us another bounty–game meat.  I actually delay having Thanksgiving because hunting ends that Sunday after.  Who says we can’t use it to thank Skadi and Ullr for a successful hunt?

It even makes a lot of sense, given that fall turkey puts some birds in the freezer.  So, maybe celebrate it as the end of hunting season and the start of preparing for Yule might be appropriate.

I hope I’ve given some good reasons to celebrate the autumn equinox.  Do you celebrate Mabon, Winter Finding, or the autumnal equinox as a Heathen?  I’d love to hear what you do.

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

I got in a conversation with another pagan on Huginn’s Heathen Hof, and he had a different outlook on the whole Christianity versus Paganism argument.  It hit me as having some merit, so I’d thought I’d explore it more in depth.

The Argument

The person who put forth this argument to me was a Heathen and a Gnostic. (Let that sink in a bit before dismissing it outright.)  His basic argument was that Christianity at its beginning had nothing — no holidays, no formal sacraments, etc, — so it took from other religions.  In fact, it took so much from pagan religions that the pagan religions actually triumphed.  I’ve been mulling it over for some days and while I don’t think it’s entirely correct, I think it has some merit to at least think about.

Christianity at its Core

Christianity is, at its core, a death cult. It focuses not on rewards in the here and now, but after one dies. It even focuses on the gruesome torture and death of their god. While I think that knowing where you’re going when you die is important, I think that this life is just as important on how we live.  Yes, Christians do focus on how well behaved they should be because they will receive a reward in “heaven,” but honestly, it takes a fear of eternal punishment to behave correctly?  Think about that for a bit.

The major holiday that Christians have recognized since its inception would be Easter, that is the day when Christ allegedly rose from the dead.  We know that Easter arose from the Passover festival, around which Christ was allegedly crucified.  Easter follows Passover.   But we know that it took the name Eostre, and it may have borrowed the pagan trappings of festivals during that time, presumably to make it more palatable to the audience.

Yule and Christmas

We do know that Christmas was pretty much taken from pagan midwinter festivals, celebrating the celebrating the god of agriculture for a full month starting a week before the solstice.  We know that Christmas wasn’t instituted until the fourth century CE when the Church thought to take those midwinter festivals and sanction them.

return of the sun.  While us Heathens can lay claim to Yule, we aren’t the only ones that had midwinter celebrations.  The Romans had Saturnalia, which was spent

The Puritans actually banned Christmas (and the saints) because they recognized the pagan origins. For about 25 years England under Oliver Cromwell made Christmas illegal.  That joy was brought over with the Puritans who made Christmas illegal.  Such was the control of the Puritans that anyone found in Boston exhibiting the Christmas spirit during the years 1659 to 1681 could be fined. What a great bunch.

Incidentally, the Christmas tree came into vogue with Queen Victoria, taking the customs of her husband’s homeland.  The Christmas tree popped up around the 17th century in Germany have its, …ahem, roots in paganism.

Plenty of pagans have pointed to Odin’s ride, Slepnir’s eight legs changing into eight reindeer, and other similarities, that suggest Odin is Santa Claus, so I don’t need to go through that argument.

Harvest and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, itself, is more of an American holiday that was celebrated in New England for some time before Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863.  George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, thus putting it on the table, so to speak, when it came to having a national day of thanks.  A quote from History.com:

Autumn Comments & Graphics
Image by Magickal Graphics

“As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores.”

We have our own celebration of Harvest Home, so saying that Americans “invented” a harvest festival like Thanksgiving isn’t truthful.  Now, we did put our own spin on it, but in the end, it is the celebration of family and home, as well as harvest.

The Days of the Week

The months are named after Roman months (gods, Caesars, and numbers), but the days of the week were Roman names changed to our gods, with the exception of Saturday because people probably thought Ymirday might not catch on.  (Yeah, I know the story is that there’s no German equivalent to Saturn who was an agricultural god slain by Jupiter, but that’s another story for another time.) So, when we say we’re meeting someone on Thursday, we’re meeting them on Thor’s-day.

Saints versus Polytheism

Becoming Polytheistic was easy after being Catholic for me. Any religion that allows veneration of saints actually lost to the polytheism.  Even the Episcopalians have the saints and the time I went to an Episcopalian mass proved to me that they’re Catholics without a pope who allow divorces. We know that some saints were actually gods that got incorporated into the ranks of saints to make the religion more popular (such as Saint Bridget).  So, yeah, in some Christian religions, we got some of the gods and goddesses in.

Catholics will tell you that they do not worship saints. That is true at the highest level, but the line gets mighty blurred with the veneration of Mary and other saints.

So Did Heathenism Win?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I would argue yes and no.  In the long run, we still have the Christian god, complete with all the stupidity that has subjugated women, condoned slavery, and given us plenty of hangups due to the “do this or you go to hell” mentality.  I’m not saying that heathens were morally superior as we had slavery and human sacrifice, but most of us are willing to make the change in the right direction.

By the same token, we got our holidays and other pieces infiltrated into Christianity. People who celebrate the holidays are often celebrating the secular holidays rather than what their church would like them to celebrate.  Sure, they keep Jesus in Christmas, but seeing as the whole nativity scene is pretty much made up, and seeing we really don’t know much about the historical Jesus, or even if there was one, we can call it a myth and be done with it.

What it does say to me is that Heathens can celebrate those so-called Christian holidays and feel good about putting their own spin on things. At least, that’s how I look at it.

Added for Clarity:

The point the person made was that arguing whether or not to worship Christ was irrelevant because basically Christianity took all the trappings from pagans anyway. We can argue semantics, but that was his point. I was willing to consider his belief and came up with a yes and no observation. I rushed the conclusion, which perhaps I shouldn’t have done, but I wanted to get the piece out, late as it was.

That being said, I think he does have a point. Is it Heathenism under another flavor? No. Our gods are not revered, although one might be able to point out some obscure saints the Church may have created to appease Heathens. Is Christianity the same as it was when it was conceived? No. It is mostly pagan with the foundation of the Abrahamic faith. Depending on your beliefs in Asatru and Heathenism, you can argue that what parts of paganism was added is superficial. Maybe so, maybe not. I just found it an interesting opinion, and one I couldn’t completely dismiss.

Do All The Things!

Do All The Things!

One thing I don’t seem to have gotten over very well is my Catholic need to martyr myself.  (I can just see Tyr shake his head in exasperation when when I do this) — if the Lord of Swords thinks it’s folly to overextend myself, I suspect it is folly.

But the holidays are a great time to overdo everything, including overextend oneself.  But as Loki constantly reminds me (and yes, somehow Loki pops in to remind me to self-care– more on that some other day), there’s no way I can possibly care for anyone else if I don’t care for myself first.

(At least, if you’re going to have psychoses, have useful ones where the gods talk some sense into you to do things that are good for you and those around you.)

Anyway, Back to the Holidays…

My mom used to put on a big shindig every Thanksgiving and Christmas.  When my ancient Mother-In-Law moved to our town, I channeled my mom and tried to put together celebratory meals. The reality was far from wonderful. My husband and I hunt and hunting season chews up Thanksgiving handily. While I am grateful to Skadi and Ullr for our meals, hunting takes up a lot of energy. Having Thanksgiving later than the prescribed day helped, but by the end of it, I was channeling my inner bitch.  I was exhausted, overworked, and feeling overwhelmed.

Loki reminded me to self-care.
I threw something at him.

Sick Critters, and Life Intrudes

To make matters worse, the weather got evilly cold. The Jotun were here to plunge us into temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  Skadi granted us more opportunities to hunt. A bunch of my livestock got sick and no matter what I did, they remained sick.  So, I finally got a veterinarian out. Blood draws and plenty of medicine.

Then, there was the little matter of butchering the deer we got the week before. Usually I would have it all cut up, but with the amazingly brutal weather, the quarters froze right up.  So, I could thaw them out and butcher them at a slightly more leisurely pace.

I still need to take care of the skins, even though they’re salted.
I have writing work and other work to do. My plants in the greenhouse are questionable now.  I finally get around to watering them anyway.

Got a bunch of food that needs to be preserved still.  Managed to get the dehydrator full with squash.

Loki reminds me to self-care.
I whimper.

I have this blog and three others to write. I have assignments to get done.  I have to make money somehow…

To Drag this Back on Point…

The problem that we as humans deal with is what society constrains us when it comes to things we must do. Sometimes, we take what we perceive as obligations when in fact, they’re simply man-made constructs. We do things because we were taught to do them, whether or not it makes sense for our lives.  As much as I love Tyr, he has enough control over my life with physics, the laws of nature, and the laws of men. Chasing after some perceived societal norm around holidays when it stresses me out isn’t healthy.  Hence, Loki steps in and whines about my lack of self care.

That’s why when my husband pointed out that doing a dinner thing wasn’t working for me, I needed to step back and rethink what I was doing.  I was trying to follow my mom’s style, which isn’t mine. Holidays, as wonderful as they are, need to be something that aren’t done “just because that’s how we do them.”

Whether celebrating Thanksgiving/Harvest or Yule/Christmas, we as humans must make them joyous occasions and not stressors in our lives. Loki reminds me that being human means being fallible.  That means that sometimes we can’t do “all the things, all the time.”  Tyr agrees.  Which suddenly has reduced the stress in my life.

I still have all the other things to get done, but somehow, the gods make them a little less frenetic. Probably because they don’t judge me on what I accomplish in the minutiae of my daily life. Not like the Christian god purportedly did.

Thanks, and hopefully this rambling post made sense to you.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll listen to your inner Loki and remember self care as well.