A reader writes in with an interesting dilemma. He says, "My family wants to have a big Thanksgiving celebration, but I don't want to participate. I object to this holiday as a protest of the treatment of Native Americans by my white ancestors. Any ideas on how I can survive Turkey Day and still hold true to my Pagan ideals?"
You know, there are a lot of people who feel this way about Thanksgiving Day. To many, rather than the Brady-Bunchified version of happy pilgrims sitting around with their Native friends eating corn cobs, it represents oppression, greed, and cultural annihilation. For people of Native American ancestry, it's often considered a day of mourning.
You have a couple of options. The first, obviously, is not to attend the family dinner at all, but stay home instead, perhaps holding a silent ritual of your own in honor of those who suffered under the guise of settlement.
However -- and this is a big however -- for many families, the holidays are the only times they get a chance to be together. It's entirely possible that you're going to hurt some feelings if you choose not to go, particularly if you've always gone in the past. No one wants Granny to cry because you decided this was the year you weren't coming to dinner with her -- after all, it's not her fault that you find Thanksgiving objectionable.
That means that you'll need to find some sort of compromise. Is there a way you can spend the day with your family, but still remain faithful to your own sense of ethics? Could you, perhaps, attend the gathering, but maybe instead of eating a plate full of turkey and mashed potatoes, sit with an empty plate in silent protest?
Another option would be to focus not on the Pilgrims/Indians aspect of the holiday but instead on the abundance and blessings of the earth. Although typically Pagans see the Mabon season as a time of thanksgiving, there's certainly no reason you can't be thankful for having a table full of food and a family who loves you -- even if they don't understand what the heck you're talking about. Many Native American cultures had celebrations that honored the end of the harvest, so maybe you could find a way to incorporate that into your celebration, and educate your family a little at the same time.
Finally, if your family says any kind of blessing prior to eating, ask if you can offer the blessing this year. Say something from your heart, expressing your gratitude for what you have, and speaking out in honor of those who were oppressed and destroyed in the name of manifest destiny. If you put some thought into it, you can find a way to hold true to your own beliefs while educating your family at the same time.
For anyone who's interested in reading an excellent book on what really happened at Thanksgiving, I recommend picking up a copy of 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace. It's a well-researched and beautifully photographed account of the Wampanoag side of the events leading up to the first Thanksgiving at Plimoth.
Find out what other readers have to say, and contribute your thoughts here: Reader FAQ - Pagans and Thanksgiving. You can also read an excellent essay by one of our regular readers which was posted on Witchvox a few years back, Giving Thanks Throughout the Holy Days To The Goddess For Her Abundance.