Unwanted Family Traditions

Traditions are linked to rituals; they’re actions we engage in for some purpose.  Often, this purpose is to cement ties within a group and to connect with an important celebration.  There are many family traditions that are dear to me, and I am already passing them down to my daughter.  They are traditions that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and they symbolize part of what I perceive to be beneficial and, sometimes, deeply spiritual about an observation.  There are some traditions, specifically from my mother, that seemed like nothing more than silly superstition to me during adolescence.  As I grew and started to study and embrace my ancestral heritage, these traditions took on a new positive significance.  In addition, moving away from my mother found me embracing practices that were once trite seeming, possibly because I miss her and feel closer to her through maintaining them.  Often, it seems that traditions are informally handed down this way in modern American society.  Children either grow to embrace them through a combination of sentimentality and belief, or they abandon them entirely.

Abandoning a family tradition is simple enough when it’s a minor ritual.  When I altered my dinnertime prayer so that it reflected my polytheistic beliefs, there were some growing pains in that, but it was eventually accepted because I was still expressing gratitude*.  My decision not to observe Valentine’s Day is still looked at as a little odd but nobody in my family really cares.

Thanksgiving is a whole other issue.   It has nothing to do with patriotism, although I’m certain many of my readers come from families who would decry any aversion to the holiday as unpatriotic**. To my kin, Thanksgiving is a family holiday, and the mere suggestion that I don’t want to celebrate it is often criticized by loved ones who, I must stress, have the best of intentions.  They sympathize with my reasons, but insist that the holiday has evolved and is all about family, togetherness, and, of course, gratitude.  While I understand that, and even embrace that spirit, I still find the tradition of observing Thanksgiving with a capital T to be morally objectionable simply because of the history.

Full disclosure – I do, according to family records, have an indigenous ancestor.  She comes from the Cree people and married another ancestor, a French trapper.  I claim this ancestor out of love and respect, and desire to know more about her, but I don’t lay any claim to Cree culture, nor Native culture at large.  I periodically try to inform myself, and I find that this happens a lot around November especially.  The same old, mangled cultural narrative*** comes out and, not only is it whitewashed and incomplete – it’s offensive!  Every year, I strive to learn more about the history and, just as important, I learn about contemporary Native issues.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, nor do I claim perfection, but I am trying to better myself, and CAORANN has been a very helpful resource for me, as someone on the Druidic path.  I find myself agreeing with the concept of The National Day of Mourning.  I guess I just feel that perpetuating a false history is offensive to my Ancestors of blood and place, and doing so on a day of gluttony while actual Native brothers and sisters suffer in poverty is offensive.  I feel that doing so while also glamorizing factory farmed turkey consumption, and using the whole day as a threshold into a season of excessive consumerism, to be absolutely abhorrent and antithetical to my entire spirituality.  I have a difficult time explaining this to my family in part because some of them just want to have a fun day to get together, and Thanksgiving is as good an excuse as any to them.  While they don’t attempt to censor my displeasure, they often look at me as curmudgeon.

Look.  I’m not trying to downplay the importance of celebrating the harvest either.  And heck, I enjoy pumpkin pie more than I should!  Gratitude towards the Earth and those who labor to feed others is incredibly worthy of celebration, and I already feel that I celebrate various thanksgivings during numerous harvest festivals.  In fact, the entire modern Pagan calendar could be viewed, in part, as a series of thanksgivings.  They have meaning for me.  They do not offend me or my moral principals.

I don’t entirely know how to deal with this issue.  I don’t want to observe Thanksgivng anymore, but I also love seeing my family.  This year, at least, we’re having our dinner two days later…  but it’s still a Thanksgiving observation in man ways.  Can I, raised in this tradition, ever break free of it?  Can I positively share this alternative view with my daughter, who will attend a public school, without marginalizing her?  It’s likely I couldn’t get out of the whole mess without hurting some feelings…  Yet I feel that, one of these days, perhaps when Bee is older, we’ll start a new tradition.  I’d like to attend a National Day of Mourning protest one day to learn more and express my solidarity.  I want to do things because they have real meaning to me.  I want my daughter to see that I value truth, fellowship, and the Earth.

It’s a complicated issue, but I can’t help but dwell on these thoughts each November…  I thank you, dear readers, for indulging me as I get this off my chest.  One thing I’m thankful for?  I live in a country where I’m free to express my feelings of discontent!

*Changing or eliminating a prayer before dinner will, of course, vary in acceptance.  I am not attempting to diminish any negative experiences felt by my more agnostic or atheistic readers.

** If any of my readers feel that way about me now, we’ll just have to respectfully disagree.  

*** I refuse to call it a myth.  Such usage, in my opinion, diminishes the sacred quality of what mythology actually is.

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

7 thoughts on “Unwanted Family Traditions

  1. I feel ya- I’ve been noticing various Pagans post about Thanksgiving, but little to no discussion of the historical problems behind it. I’ve always loved it as a family holiday, esp. at times when I lived far away from any relatives, but we still managed to visit them. From what I understand- Canadian Thanksgiving (in October) is simply a harvest celebration. Celebrating it then could be one alternative. Doing a service project for Native folks might be another.

  2. The easiest way I have found is to move away, physically disengage, and begin your own traditions. It’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone, but the physical distance helps.

    1. I think the distance between my family and I is part of what fuels the desire to use Thanksgiving as an excuse to get together. And I love being with my family, so it’s really difficult to distance myself from them. I wish I could make them all see things my way. 😛

  3. My mom’s family pretty much stopped doing Thanksgiving after my Grandfather died simply because it just felt weird with out him. My dad’s side pretty much did the same when my Great Grand mother died, which was around this holiday.
    For years I got dragged over to my husband’s(now my ex) family and watched them fight over religion and politics. This is the first year outside of the familiar loop of all that crap and i feel lost simply cause the routine, as annoying as it was, is lost. My roommate’s family has invited me over and it all feels disconnected.
    Combine all the personal dram with the fact working retail for years has made me dread this time of year. Thanksgiving always meant high stress, long hours and being abused by customers out to save a buck or two.
    I dread this time of year. I always feel like an outsider looking in to festivities I feel no joy in. Like an Alien Observer.
    Let everyone else stuff their face, watch football and then go trample poor retail workers…..i am going to go drink some wine, curl up with my cat and a book and pray this years bout of seasonal depression will not be as bad as last years.
    I know this doesn’t help solve your debate at all but i thought i’d share with you my own struggles of lost traditions.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: