Thanksgiving Prayers

So here it is again. Thanksgiving. The years click by so d*mn fast.

The holidays are both fun and stressful. There are beloved family members we haven’t seen in a while and delicious food that we haven’t eaten in a while. There’s the stress of relatives who drink too much and pick fights, kids who screech and scream and run through the house on sugar highs, and shopping and cooking and getting up in the wee hours to place the carcass of a decapitated, stuffed bird in the oven (turkey anyone?).

And then there are the prayers.

The thanks to god for all the food and the gifts he’s bestowed on us like health and wealth. Of course, we’re thinking of all the hypocrisies and pretenses of religious belief. And we sit there, silently, while the rest of our families pray because it would be pretty rude for us to say, “I’d just prefer to thank the cook instead.”

While the philosophers and pundits rake religion over the coals, although we may nod our heads in agreement, we are still left with the realities in our living rooms. Family and friends believe, and we don’t want something as personal and (to us) as inconsequential as religion to strain our relationships.

So I tell my kids, “bow your heads, remain silent.” We’re not compromising our views or betraying ourselves by creating peace in the space around us. Harmony and tolerance are part of our belief system.  Prayers said at the table don’t mean that we’re participants. We’re merely observers. Peace-makers. It’s no skin off our backs.

This is not to say that, if someone attacks us for not believing, that we don’t bite back. But we realize we don’t need to take the offensive, to undermine anyone’s religious belief (especially grandma’s), on a day intended for celebration and good will.

We will hear some silly god-speak this Thanksgiving, things that make us want to roll our eyes or bust out laughing. But one thing we can be thankful for is that we are all above ground, celebrating together, no matter our beliefs.

Have a safe, happy and relaxing holiday, friends!


PS   As you shop for the kids in your life after Thanksgiving, I saw this article on and thought it might be of interest.  Toys that stimulate young brains.


38 responses to “Thanksgiving Prayers

  1. TG is a holiday we do not have. All the things you mentioned are crammed up in the Xmas 🙂
    I agree with you wholeheartedly – especially the issue of us unbelievers having peace and keeping of it as one of our tenets if you like. There is time and place for confrontations and family holidays are not those – no matter how far apart we are ideologically, there is something beyond that that joins us and makes us family. That is enough to be thankful for.

    • @Konsta. Well-said! “There is time and place for confrontations and family holidays are not those – no matter how far apart we are ideologically, there is something beyond that that joins us and makes us family. That is enough to be thankful for.”

  2. Taking the High Road is always the right path!

  3. We are lucky not to live near any family. I cook a dish a day prior to Thanksgiving. Our close family of 4 spends both Thursday & Friday inside all day playing video games, board games, reading & watching football. For Saturday & Sunday we will go hiking at a close national park. We do not celebrate any kind of gluttonous consumerism and I am thanked over and over for cooking and I thank my husband for paying for it. It is also a great time to go through all of our closets and donate any clothes that we have grown out of or any toys that the boys have outgrown. We then make a big deal out of our large thanksgiving donation with our boys showing them how important it is to give to others.

  4. I agree with most of your post here, but I do not bow my head. To me that is part of religious ritual. I just look forward, without any judgmental look on my face as the prayer goes on.

  5. Thanks for posting. I try to hold the peace each holiday season, but it is hard when family members use the holidays as an excuse to save my soul. I will keep your words in mind and hope for the best. 🙂

  6. I agree with your thoughts EXCEPT, the bowing of the head. My kid has been told that I don’t bow my head to pretend things, and he doesn’t have to either.

    • @Paul S and @Jen We went back and forth on that one, too. In the end, we decided it was like standing, sitting and kneeling in church with grandma. It’s just a way we show her respect. But I totally get not wanting to bow your head, and I think however you make the peace, it is a good thing! 🙂

  7. When we are at a family gathering, I tell my kids to remain silent, but I don’t instruct them to close their eyes or bow their heads unless they want to. My usual standard for them is that we don’t interfere in other people’s private practice of religion, but we don’t have to pretend to participate.

    The awkwardness comes when the host invites one of us to say a blessing. Usually this is out of ignorance on the part of the host, who is meaning to be polite and does not realize (or refuses to admit to themselves) that we do not share their religion. In the past I have simply politely declined. In the future I’m planning to have a humanist blessing handy, thanking the farmers and fieldhands and truckers and grocers, and of course the cooks. Either the hosts will be pleasantly surprised, or they’ll never ask me to do that again, and either one is a good result.

    • @ubi dubium Absolutely! I love that humanist blessing! I have done the same in the past for gatherings both big and small. I’ve deferred to someone religious, and I’ve also just offered a thanks to the host and hostess and the people who showed up (no higher power necessary)!

  8. Being outside of nigh every orthodoxy, we do not ‘do’ Thanksgiving. Not only was it an ever-raw-and-seeping wound in my childhood, but I have my own days to observe gratitude to those who keep us in the chips and turkey, as well as celebrating harvests from nature in turn as well.
    Here, it is a day for either decorating for the winter holiday (axial tilt IS the reason for the season!), or a good day to visit an empty-for-once-for-pity’s-sake beach or mountain!

    But may all who watch parades, football, and food? May it be blessed with all things bright and pleasant!

  9. @syrbal-labrys I love this: “(axial tilt IS the reason for the season!).” Can you make that into a bumper sticker!

    • Actually, Saturnalia is the reason for the season. A good many of the tradition surrounding xmas are mired in Saturnalia, used after Constintine made christianity the offical religion of the Roman empire.

  10. Great post and so timely…thank you. I love the idea of a humanist blessing and “Axial tilt is the reason for the season” is hilarious! I want a t-shirt printed with that slogan!

  11. Excellent post, as always.

  12. Oh, and I just want to say that I am thankful I found your blog, and that I’ve gotten to know you, Debbie! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours 🙂

  13. Once again, late to the party.

    Others have already stated this, but I never bow my head during a prayer session. I look around and question the sanity of those with whom I am sharing space… including family. Bowing one’s head is an act of submission, and I will not submit to their imaginary tyrant (this thing is no friend) in the sky. When, and it is never if, anyone gives me a dirty look, then I openly roll my eyes at them to convey my sentiments. The most I will give is silence, although I did whistle “When You Wish Upon a Star” one time when the prayer being said lobbed an insult at me (it was direct and intentional).

    I disagree that participating in the ritual is showing a sign of respect. It is more an act of deference to an individual. However, what type of respect is it if internally you are rigorously disagreeing with what they believe? Perhaps it is safer to say you do not want to disturb the others, but then I have to ask the question as to why they feel perfectly fine to disturb you. The sub-text of this is that they still are imposing their beliefs on you. The respect must be mutual. They must respect your position as well and to the same degree. If not, then it remains religions tyranny within the family and respect has nothing to do with it.

    My family has come to an agreement for Thanksgiving and Festivus (or x-mas to the xtians), and, yes, we openly discussed this at my behest because my sister was blowing a gasket after each Festivus. During Thanksgiving, we state three things about which we are thankful (and not in supplication to the imaginary tyrant, either) beginning with the oldest in the family. Also, there is a tacit agreement that no one is allowed to state an obviously veiled insult over beliefs (and it has happened). For my part, I typically include one family related item, one personal item, and one item regarding science or technology.

    And as others have stated, I am thankful to the creator of this blog, for the blog itself, and the community around it. I hope everyone experiences a joyous and peaceful celebration. I will find my serenity in cooking a fricking HUGE meal (I love to cook)!

    • @Derrick You might be late to the party, but you always bring a different dish! This is a great comment. You’re fortunate that your family is so amenable to your views and is willing to be so inclusive.

      I do not take it as a sign of disrespect for me that they want to pray in their own homes nor is it a sign of deference (IMO). They know we are not believers, and they do not try to sway us. But I cannot ask them to change their traditions. To me, prayer is such a little thing because I’m very happy and confident with what I do and do not believe. If I were to go to someone’s home who didn’t want me to wear my shoes inside her house, I would remove my shoes. There are many rituals we participate in every day (celebrating New Year’s, St. Thanksgiving parades, birthday celebrations, Olympic ceremonies or shaking hands upon meeting, for example).

      Now, if my family were criticizing me for not believing or if they were making my kids do bible activities, that, obviously, is a whole ‘nother ball game!

      I am thankful for this community, too, and all the great conversations and ideas that are brought here!

  14. This post gave me reason to sigh and feel understood. I, too, do not bow my head at the in-law’s celebration (my sisters and brothers and father don’t offer a prayer, but we’re not celebrating with them this year). I usually find a reason to excuse myself to another room during the prayer and the kids usually choose to hang out with me (thankfully).

    Thank you, Debbie, for offering this space to convene. I may come back here on Thanksgiving to keep my sanity.

  15. “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves. So thanks for nothing.” ~ Bart Simpson

  16. Any chance we can start a town (or country!) of non-believers? Someplace where there are no churches, just places to gather and enjoy the company of like-minded people? It’s a shame we are all so geographically spread out, because I think I could find some true friends in this group. Aw, well, I can dream, can’t I? I wish all of you a very happy and peaceful holiday.

  17. For anyone who’s ever felt the least bit out of place —

  18. Kind of OT but I thought it was funny. Maybe some of you can work it into your Thanksgiving discussions around the family dinner table —

    “The Bible should be one sheet of paper. And on that sheet of paper it should say, “Try not to be a cunt.” And if you do that every day, you’ll be a good person.” — Jim Jefferies

  19. *** OFF TOPIC ***

    I never heard of this until today (read about it on Slate)…

    It’s called “missionary dating.” What an abhorent practice!

    Is there something in the ten commandments about not bearing false witness (and I know it means that in a legal sense, but marriage is a legal issue).

  20. Thanksgiving is awesome! In moist and juicy turkey I believe! For it does exist – I can touch it, smell it and then carve and eat it. At which point it ceases to exist but my belief in the bird remains unshaken.

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