Thanksgiving–Is it Meaningful? Yes, Even for Atheists.

I sympathize with people who dislike the commercialization of every holiday, certainly including Thanksgiving. I sympathize with those who wonder if the Native Americans who are said to have given the Pilgrims a helping hand that day were only opening the door to misery and inexorable invasion. But the concept of ritually or consciously giving thanks, as well as the notion of celebrating “harvest”, whatever it may be, with family and friends, makes Thanksgiving, perhaps, the most sensible of holidays.

I give thanks I’ve got my wife Micky Shirley–I’d be lost without her. Thank God I’ve got the friendship of those few close friends who have put up with my eccentricities, my fits of depression, and occasional louche backsliding over the years. I’m thankful I encountered a few adventurous book editors willing to take a chance on some quite outre fiction. Thank God I’ve got three sons who are employed, intelligent, kindly people. I fully appreciate the fact that I’ve got opportunities to earn money to pay a mortgage on a home, to pay for a celebrative meal, and, thanks to America’s first African-American president, full healthcare coverage at a reasonable cost.

These considerations are valuable. The underlying idea of Thanksgiving, if I open up to it, makes me a better man than I usually am, however briefly. If I give it a chance, it lifts me out of my self-pity. It reawakens my feelings of charity toward others even as it encourages volunteerism and charitable thoughts in many people who otherwise are caught up in their own troubles; these same people are sometimes found handing out hot dinners, on this day every year.

The philosophy implied in thanks-giving is a holiday even my many friends who are sturdily atheist can appreciate; praying Pilgrims or not, the occasion has lasting ramifications for a healthy secular society. One doesn’t need to thank God, in particular. One can simply be thankful. (In the end, the same thing–but don’t tell the atheists.)

Thank God for giving thanks.

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