This last Sunday I was given the honor of hosting a table at the annual International Thanksgiving Day dinner at the University.  It is a time when international students and their families are invited to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in order to experience and learn about a very American holiday.  It was a wonderful evening filled with turkey, pumpkin pie, and everything in between.  I was host to eight people, four students from China and a family of four from Botswana. 

We talked about a great many things, lots of questions asked and answered.  However, the most intriguing question, the one that caught me the most off guard did not come from my dinner companions.  The question came from one of the other Chaplains at the University.  I was asked, “So how do Pagans celebrate Thanksgiving?”  The question truly took me back.

My response was simple. “We do what everyone else does; we eat turkey and watch football or something while gathering with family and friends.  Thanksgiving isn’t a religious holiday, it’s an American Holiday.”  He was a little flustered and then his wife gave him a funny look.  She restated the obvious, this is a universal holiday in America and it isn’t religious in nature.  This made me think, what would possess another to assume that just because I’m Pagan I would have a “different” Thanksgiving tradition. 

I believe it isn’t so much that there was thought put behind the question.  In fact I think that it was someone, whom I make uncomfortable due to my spiritual beliefs, simply trying to make small talk.  But what bizarre small talk.  When did religion co-opt Thanksgiving?  I must say too that this is the same individual who took offense to the besom I wanted to keep in the office.  So, back to the question of what do people do for Thanksgiving?  I think that is simple, we give thanks; hence the name of the holiday.  How each individual does it, to whom they give thanks and why are all personal in nature.  In the beginning it was thanks for an abundant harvest that would allow some extremely unprepared people to survive the winter.  Something that had not happened for more than half of the settlers (Pilgrims) the first winter they were here.  Native Americans helped them by teaching how to live in this strange new land.  What a concept, accepting different ways of thinking and living in order to adapt to a changing environment.  Not trying to change the environment or its inhabitants to adapt to you, but you learning to adapt to it.  They gave thanks to their new-found friends for teaching them new skills and concepts. Now, I’m not sure and you can even call me a rebel here, but wouldn’t be an interesting world if we all continued to embrace that attitude? 

And yes, I am thankful today.  I am thankful for a multitude of things most of which I will keep to myself, but I do want to share a few of the bits of my life that I am most thankful for. 

  1. My health.  I have been ill the last couple of weeks and am finally feeling human again.  We all take for granted the health that we have until it is jeopardized and we see how fragile we are.  In that light, I am also thankful that I have health insurance that allows me to get the medical attention I need when I need it.  Being healthy should not be a commodity that only the privileged are allowed to obtain.  Everyone should be allowed access to health care when they need it and not based on their ability to obtain a job that gives it instead of a living wage.
  2. My home.  Yes, a good solid roof over my head with a wood stove to warm me.  This winter it will be magnificent here.  The snow will pile up outside but I will have shelter to protect me from the forces of the lake.  It gets bitter cold where we live and I can’t imagine what it would be like to not have reliable, safe housing.  I ask the gods to help those that do not have a place of their own to call home.  So many people have lost so much in these tough times that I am thankful for what I have been able to keep.
  3. My hope.  I know things do not always go right, not for me or for anyone else.  I am grateful that I can continue to keep hope alive that things will get better for everyone.  In fact I do believe that it already is.  I know that there are a lot of people whose world’s have been submerged in darkness over the last year or two and they do not understand what happened or “what they did wrong.”  For them I hope that they see that even the darkness can be a blessing.  Out of the chaos of the dark sea new opportunities can be born.  Take the time to “re-invent” yourself, I know in the past I have done just that and it can be very liberating.
  4. My family.  For this I am most thankful.  I have the best family in the world.  They are not perfect and I wouldn’t want them to be.  They are real.  My children (and their spouses) are the most amazing people I have ever met.  As a family we travelled together through good times and bad.  In the end we have found out who we really are at the core and how special is that!  Both my daughter and my son have created beautiful lives for themselves.  They each have amazing little ones for grandma to love.  I am proud of both of them.  My husband is my best friend.  There is nothing false about him; he doesn’t know how to be.  He has stood by me through my dark times and held my hand until I returned to the light.  When I want to start a new adventure he just smiles and laughs.  He has never tried to change me and when I told him that I was thankful for that his response was simple.  He liked the woman he met, why would he want to change me to be someone else?  My family of heart, my family of blood.  I am thankful for both.  They are different groups, each with its quirks and both have helped to shape who I am.  I love you all and thank you all for this journey we are on.

So there are the things that I am grateful for and that I’m willing to share.  Are these things that different from someone who is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion?  I don’t think so. I hope not.  No, I don’t believe religion plays into this one, just people being thankful for what they have.