Sunday, October 10, 2010

Is Thanksgiving Day a Religious Holiday?

 
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. It a holiday marked by good meals and getting together with friends and family. I've never thought of it in any other context. But then, I treat Christmas the same way (except there are presents).

Douglas Todd is a columnist for the Vancouver Sun and he has a very different view of thanksgiving as expressed in his article: At Thanksgiving, do atheists feel grateful?.
Are atheists thankful? And, if so, to whom? Or what?

In the Pacific Northwest, which has the highest proportion of non-religious people in North America, Thanksgiving is not always simple for those who do not believe in a transcendent reality.

How do the almost two out five British Columbians who say they have no religion, and especially the 16 per cent who are atheists, approach a festive day that encourages humans to express a sense of thankfulness, particularly for life itself being a gift?
What is it with people who believe in supernatural beings—especially in those Gods who need to be thanked from time to time? Why are these believers completely incapable of seeing anyone else's point of view? Is there something about believing in "transcendent reality" that affects their brains?


16 comments :

  1. I usually say that I am thankful that I don't have to eat turkey the other 364 days of the year.

    It seems to me that most Americans treat the day as a holiday where they have a traditional feast. That is, they see it as about tradition, rather than religion. Only a relatively few treat it as a religious occasion.

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  2. It's like they can't see any reason to thank our family and friends. We have to have something to be grateful towards, rather than something to be grateful for. The common question is "Who are you thanking?", as if "everyone around me, the people who grew the food, who protect us, who teach us, who heal us...etc" isn't good enough. I think they have (really) so little regard for the real world that they can't be thankful for it (at least, not to the extent that they prefer to thank their imaginary friend).

    I'm also thankful that there are anti-psychotic meds, if only they would be taken.

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  3. Todd apparently didn't notice the secularization of Thanksgiving (and Christmas too, probably). I agree with nwrickert - it's all about tradition. Most Americans probably think of food, family (and football).

    Is Thanksgiving a day people even bother going to church for?

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  4. Wow!...time for some comment filtering..

    I see Thanksgiving as an autumn harvest festival. I thank farmers, and I celebrate with family.

    As with religious festivals, it's a good excuse to overeat, and who needs a god for that?

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  5. Here's from one of those 16-percenters; should I be grateful to the sun for shining on me? To the chickadees for perching in my maple tree? The corn for growing?

    It's not thankfulness that's relevant, it's delight. Gratitude is a debt to pay. I'm not grateful to my daughter for inviting me to dinner; I'm happy that she wants me, inspired by the conversation and people at the table, and amazed by her culinary skills. A different thing altogether.

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  6. Thanksgiving was always a traditional non-religious gathering in my parents household. If it was religious in other households, it was usually religious for all meals.

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  7. Is the holiday really about giving thanks, though? I mean despite the name, I don't think most people do a whole lot to demonstrate their gratitude to others aside from attend a family meal. Oh, on that day we may "thank" the farmers who grew the food on our tables or the soldiers who protect us while we sleep, but usually only in the form of a passing mention in a prayer mumbled before mealtime. I don't ever recall actually trying to get a farmer or soldier on the phone so we could thank them personally. In my family holiday celebrations, the thanks we offered at the dinner table were just for ourselves and god, and I don't think god heard them any better then the farmer we never called. So who, really, are we thanking?

    To me Thanksgiving always seemed to be more about taking stock of one's life and being sufficiently appreciatory. We make these little lists of people and things and events that we're thankful for not because we want to actually go out and thank everyone, but simply to come to the self-realization that we do have things to be thankful for. It's a day of self-assessment, of honest accounting. A day to look past the hardships of life and "count your blessings," whatever those may be, meager or plentiful. Above all I think it's a day of not taking things for granted: your friends and family, their health, the times like these we spend together in celebration. Because death is inevitable. We'll always have to come together in times of grief. Holidays are occasions to make merriment and be happy, because that's what life is all about.

    I actually pity the religious individuals who think Thanksgiving is all about offering praise to some invisible space ghost. I can't help but see that as missing the point in a big way.

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  8. Please join in celebrating the contribution of Agriculture and Food in Canada, and remember, ”if you ate today, thank a farmer!”
    I would like to thank the Canadian government for making today a statutary holiday .

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  9. I think that those of us that lack religious conviction, should post here what we're thankful for... Then we can email this post to the article's writer...

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  10. I'm thankful:
    - To my aging parents for thier unwavering emotional support over the years.
    - To the ER team that saved my life once.
    - To the high school teacher who made me see the beauty of mathematics.
    - To an old friend who prevented me from committing suicide.
    - To the same friend for remaining a friend, even though I said some really nasty stuff.
    - For a relatively good health.
    - For Glenrothes single malt.

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  11. I would like to thank the Canadian government for making today a statutary holiday.

    It's a provincial holiday, in all 10 provinces (as far as I know). So you get to thank 10 governments, rather than just one.

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  12. "in all 10 provinces (as far as I know)."

    "Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday of October each year and it's an official statutory holiday - except in PEI, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, however federally regulated institutions do observe Thanksgiving in these provinces too."
    See statutoryholidays.com/thanksgiving.php

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  13. - Coming from the U.S., where Thanksgiving is the third Thursday in November, when I was working in Edmonton I was puzzled to read that the ski season in the Canadian Rockies did not begin until Thanksgiving. Seemed to me they'd have snow long before the end of November. Friends were kind enough to explain Canadian Thanksgiving falls on what we know in the U.S. as Columbus Day (and to invite me skiing!).

    - Growing up in a Jewish household where the majority of holidays were rather solemn occasions, I was extremely pleased to learn in college and law school that holidays are viewed by the majority of the population as opportunities for partying. :-)

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  14. Growing up in a conservative Christian household that prayed before every meal, we never treated Thanksgiving as a religious holiday per say spare praying for a little longer before the feast, and even that was tempered because nobody wanted the food to go cold. I am a thankful guy, but wasn't particularly more thankful on that day then others.

    This is at least the second time I have seen this story written before thanksgiving, that atheists can't be thankful which is so asinine. I'm thankful to people that actually exist, instead of imaginary beings. Is that really difficult to understand?

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  15. Larry writes:"what is it with people who believe in supernatural beings...? Why are these believers completely incapable of seeing anyone else's point of view? Is there something about believing in "transcendent reality" that affects their brains? "
    You know, Larry, your comments serve to illustrate the rising tide of surly rudeness and intolerance that seems to be manifested more and more in the Atheist community worldwide. Don't you think that name-calling and questioning the intelligence of those who disagree with you puts you in the very position you are criticizing? How often do you attempt to understand the Theist's point of view? Albert Einstein and Anthony Flew never believed in a personal God but at least they had a childlike sense of wonder before an awesome Designer. I do not know anyone who celebrates Thanksgiving who browbeats those who don't. Its a personal, family thing. So what's the problem?
    PS Don't forget that when you throw mud you are losing ground.
    Peace

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  16. anonymous asks,

    How often do you attempt to understand the Theist's point of view?

    Quite often, as it turns out.

    But this one has me stymied. Theist Douglas Todd asks, "How do the almost two out five British Columbians who say they have no religion, and especially the 16 per cent who are atheists, approach a festive day that encourages humans to express a sense of thankfulness, particularly for life itself being a gift?"

    I confess that I don't understand his point of view. Can he not conceive of a secular Thanksgiving Day where God isn't even mentioned?

    I wonder if he celebrates the ancient Celtic holiday called Halloween?

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