Share Your Thanksgiving Stories November 27, 2008

Share Your Thanksgiving Stories

Did religion come up at the dinner table?

Was your atheism an issue?

How did you handle it?

Is there now one fewer family member…?

Share your stories on this thread, or send them to me, and I’ll compile a list!

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  • My wife and I have been doing our own Thanksgiving since 2005. She’s totally cool with my non-faith (she’d have to be or I wouldn’t have married her) so there’s no real religious tension.

    For larger family gatherings, I figure I’ll remain in the closet until we have kids and they out me by mistake. Fortunately for me, at least for the moment, faith in my family tends to be enough of a secondary, or perhaps “taken for granted” issue that it rarely comes up explicitly.

    Of course, when my dad remarried, he married a unitarian. Unless he’s a total hypocrite I imagine he would be fine with it. My sister knows too, but she’s agnostic. I’m more concerned about my mom and brother, not to mention my entire mom’s side of the family.

  • Rachel

    You know, I remember the incident clearly, I grew up in a catholic home where the family business relied on being chummy with the priests, I was baptized in a nunnary that was cloistered only a year before I was born and I went to church every sunday and holy day of obligation (there are alot of those…).
    Despite this nothing about the catholic faith ever made sense to me.
    I was 14, sitting on the dryer in the kitchen I told my mother I no longer wanted to attend church as I don’t beleive in any of it and never really had.

    I was told I was too young to have and opinion and if I were to live under their roof I’d do as I was told, end of story.

    Now this is just a very small incident of a family with much more MASSIVE issues so it wan’t like this was a defining moment, just one of thousands where I was never aloud to have my own identity or opinion regardless of age. Needless to say the family is indeed one member shorter – me, it’s been 10 years since I walked away and never looked back and don’t regret it at all even though it is somewhat tragic, my life is so much saner, calmer, normal, meaningful, happy.

    I’ve just always found it interesing that i’m 35 and over 20 years later with some truley horrific abuse memories etched in my mind, that small incident is so clear.

  • I was told I was too young to have and opinion

    I’m 27 and my mom still tells me this since I came out as a Democrat.

  • astrogal

    I was 8 years old (now 19, 20 in 2 weeks!) when I decided I was atheist, although I never really believed anyway. I told my mom then and she said she figured as much because I’d always been too much of a scientist. My dad kept denying it until recently when I’ve been more vocal about it.

    So commences this awkward conversation:
    Dad:”You should go to church.”
    Me: “I’m not getting up early to go to some place where I’m going to feel awkward and I just don’t care.”
    Dad:”Well you still need to learn morals and that’s the only place!!!”
    Me:”Well it’s not like you’ve been the church in over a decade and plus, I obviously have more morals than you to open my house up to Ike evacuees.”

    To which he had no real response. 🙂

  • Tao Jones

    In my family there was never anything particularly religious about Thanksgiving — which was a month ago here in Canada — so that was never an issue. In general, however, special family dinners have been a bit of a pain.

    When I was little, I remember my family praying before every meal. Sometime in my teens or tweens, that stopped and was reserved for special occasions. I’m not sure what changed, but something tells me that it was simply that I was older, an altar boy and a sacristan, so my religious indoctrination was seemingly complete. By the time I was an atheist, I was living in a different city and not going to Christmas mass was about the only issue. Praying before Christmas dinner was easy to get around as I’d simply bow my head with everyone else as a sign of respect for what they believe.

    Then, my brother had a son who is 10 now. Family dinners were held at their place and suddenly religion was on the front burner again. The new way they pray before meals is particularly bothersome for me… everyone sitting around the table joins hands while someone leads the prayer. I hate this because it is forcing me to be an active participant in their prayer as my only other choice is to make a scene. Four years ago when I moved back to the city, for the first year I was asked at every dinner to LEAD the prayer which combined with my constant refusals ended up causing a scene. Now it’s my poor nephew who usually leads the prayer which frustrates me even more.

    So it’s strange… for years religion and prayer was never really an issue until a child came along. What is it about children that brings out the urge for religious indoctrination?

  • mikespeir

    I had dinner with my mom and dad, who are very religious. As always, they said grace before the meal. As always when I’m there, I bowed my head and closed my eyes with them. I do it out of respect for them, not out of respect for their religion.

  • Dan

    I agree with mikespeir.

    Family is first, religious differences come second.

    I’ve been open with my family since I was young and throughout my wonderings and journey into finding whats right for me. Religion honestly doesn’t come up often. If they decide to have a prayer, its just a bow your head kinda thing. I do that out of respect for my family as they don’t antagonize me out of respect for me. I even go to Christmas mass with my family out of respect for them. Its a big event to them. But i of course don’t take communion and they’re ok with that.

    So today, i’d say that I’m thankful to and for my family for putting whats most important first, family and relationships.

  • Jeremy

    I would have to disagree about family first, religion second. I think atheists really need to be firm about their beliefs. With that said, I really didn’t follow my own beliefs this Thanksgiving. I was with my wife’s father’s side of the family and they also do the holding hands in a circle thing. I kept my hands to myself, not trying to stand out about it, but her uncle grabbed my hand to complete the circle. I thought it was a little extreme to jerk my hand away from him and explain I don’t pray, so I held it. But I never bow my head and close my eyes; I don’t respect religion and I am not about to pretend I do. I respect the family and this is why I don’t cause a scene, but to me the closing eyes and bowing head is in respect for a deity I don’t believe exists.

  • Nathan

    Well today I finally revealed to my parents and my mother’s side of the family my atheism, although unfortunately not on my terms.

    I’ve been an atheist for two and a half years now, but both sides of my family are very religious, especially my fathers side who spent their lives building and pastoring assembly of god churches. I guess that is why I’ve decided to keep it from them all this time.

    It started out with my mom talking about ghosts and hauntings, a favorite topic of hers. I laughed it off and teased her about it a bit in good nature, and then we began talking about homeopathy. I guess homeopathy is her new hobby, with my sister and aunt being recent converts. Of course I think its all a load of bull and felt obligated to challenge her method of thinking (respectfully of course) and point out some of the fallacies of homeopathy, etc. We went back and forth for a little while and overall it was very good-natured, but my aunt stepped in and asked me if I believed in any spiritual world. I said no, and then she dropped the big question; “do you believe in god?”

    I said no, and they seemed shocked. I felt like I was backed into a corner in a way but I wasnt going to cheapen my beliefs by hiding them under direct questioning. Later on they joked around with me about it, which I guess means they either want to let me know it doesnt bother them, or they aren’t taking it seriously. Either way I realized it does not matter to me. These are my beliefs and I am not ashamed of them.

  • Kris

    My mom’s side of the family has always been the kind of small town people where the Christianity of someone is assumed, and being the type of person who avoids conflict I have yet to correct them. I’m over at my uncle’s house today and he asks what classes I’ve been taking at college (19 by the way) and my ecology and evolution class came up. Extreme stereotype ahead, watch yourselves.

    He launched into a lecture that covered a wide array of topics, including a warning against liberal atheistic professors, the shocking fact that evolution is just a theory and we can’t reproduce the origin of life, Darwin didn’t know how a cell worked, and a hot tip to watch this little “eye-opening” documentary called Expelled. It was all I could do to just blankly nod every once in a while and not correct everything he said.

    I still don’t know what exact kind of nuclear meltdown would occur after my extended family found out about my atheism, but if I have to endure more of that gibberish, I may find myself accidentally/on purpose outing myself soon.

  • Christie

    I was very happy to host my family’s Thanksgiving for the first time today — the farthest we go at the religious end of the spectrum are a few people who consider themselves “spiritual” and subscribe to a kind of hybrid Buddhist/Christian philosophy; the rest of us are atheists. It was a wonderful day and we were all very grateful for what we have, most of all -each other.-

    Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow godless heathens. 😉

  • Dheak

    I’m just wondering if the joke of asking me to give the grace every year will ever get old.

  • paola

    I read that thanksgiving was first celebrated by the pilgrims who would have been starving if it wasn’t for the wampanoag. Everybody should be thankful to the wampanoag who taught the pilgrims agriculture…I dont really understand people who thank god all the time for the good things and damn men for the bad ones

  • Anfractuous

    We haven’t had our Thanksgiving yet, as my husband won’t have a day off until Sunday. As he makes the turkey, we’re waiting for him, and also so we can all celebrate together.

    The family is essentially non-religious, although I am the only one who is actually an atheist. My husband, while non-religious, seems to have become a “born again” Republican, and as such, has begun to make shocking anti-evolution, anti-global worming noises, among others that tend toward the religious views expressed by his favorite talk radio host- Rush Limbaugh. As appalling as my husband’s comments may be, he continues to be a generous, caring person.

    Since we’re hosting the Thanksgiving dinner, he will ask someone to say grace, as he doesn’t like to do it himself. One year he asked me to do it, but I refused, so he hasn’t asked since. Don’t know what will happen this year. I’m hoping to pre-empt the problem by offering a toast to everyone and telling them how grateful I am for them. That should take care of the formalities, I hope.

    In the spirit of the season, I offer you all my best Thanksgiving wishes, as well. This is something I wrote for my family, but it goes for you all as well.

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Today is the reason,
    The gratitudiest season,
    For thankfulness, laughter and joy.
    To come all together
    In all kinds of weather
    Our bountiful world to enjoy.

    Our turkey-filled tummies
    And many more yummies,
    Remind us how lucky we are.
    So here’s to your happies,
    All dripping with sappies,
    From Anfractuous to y’all, near and far.

  • Eric

    This is the first year that my family stayed home to have our own Thanksgiving meal. I am atheist and my wife is not. Our kids are just kids, no religion, no atheism. It was a very nice meal. No religion, just our family being thankful for everyone and everything that we have.

    After we had our meal we went to her sisters house to visit. That is where the rest of the family gathered to have Thanksgiving. Her family is VERY religious, her father is a preacher at a small local church. Her mom is a big part of the church and now her sister has gotten heavy into the church, and sends her kids to a Christian school.
    It always surprises me and makes me a little uncomfortable when we go to their homes, because even with all their religion, they always seem to start to make disparaging remarks about other nationalities, gay and lesbian people, and any other people that are not exactly like them. They tend to be the most intolerant, racist people that I know. It made our decision to eat our meal on our own that much easier. I hope this is a tradition in the making.

  • Heather

    Thanksgiving was easy-peasy this year; just me and my husband – and we’re both Atheists. But! Hope Springs Eternal! When talking with my sister (former Catholic, now 7th day adventist), she mentioned that she was getting sick of organised religion and was thnking of becoming Agnostic! Yippie! Guess who’s getting the The God Delusion for a holiday gift…

  • stogoe

    My family had relatives over for Thanksgiving. I’d let my parents know a few weeks ago that I’ve been going to a Unitarian church, but we hadn’t actually discussed it yet. Thankfully they waited until after the relatives left to try to ambush me*. They’re fervently religious, but politically moderate-to-left-leaning, so it went okay. It helps that Unitarian-Universalism grew out of Christianity, and that there are numerous belief systems that gather into UU communities. I didn’t tear the whole veil away yet, but at least I took baby steps. Baby steps forward are still steps forward.

    *I say ‘ambush’ but a) I expected and was prepared for it, and b) they weren’t accusatory or confrontational. I take it as a good sign that they decided not to let the extended family back me into a corner.

  • Adam

    All the talk of head bowing reminds me of military ceremonies. We had a co-worker pass recently and someone decided that we should gather in a circle and bow our heads in silent prayer. Luckily there are quite a few of us that are atheists in my group so we all did a bit of silent reflection and stole glances at each other while everyone else’s head was bowed.

    At another recent event, the local marines asked us to join them for the Marine Corps birthday, so we went and they had the typical chaplain do his thing. Again, when he said “Let us pray” my group decided to look straight ahead and I am sure that a couple of us, including myself, tilted our chins up just a bit in silent protest.

    I didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family this year, but I was able to convey my thanks for their support via email and phone and that is what matters to me.

    Luckily, both my wife’s family and mine all know that we are atheists and for the most part, it has gone well. In one case, it has gone so far that my aunt wouldn’t talk to us for a while–She stopped talking to us when we told her that we didn’t like receiving religious gifts for our children. Luckily, she decided that she would rather have us in her life as atheists than not at all.


  • Kate

    This year’s Thanksgiving was barren of any religious taints at my parents place. Well, at least as far as I know. My fiance and I delayed ourselves a bit just in case there was a saying of grace before the meal. He’s a fervent atheist, and I’m a casual Buddhist with strong atheistic leanings.

    There was one year in which my grandfather on my step-mother’s side (who are all devout Catholics) decided to be an instigator and try to get me to say grace. I refused, and so he felt the need to call on me to say grace for any subsequent meal at their home after that. It caused quite the bit of distress in the family. and I intentionally stopped visiting when he was home (there were other reasons as well).

    My family has taken my beliefs and that of my soon-to-be husband with great stride. Although there are times where they make outright attacks on us. Such as one year my parents gave me a Tibetan Silk prayer scroll for Christmas, but later that day at dinner told me that I needed to let god more into my life. Oh well. Maybe one day they will understand :-).

    Peace to you all!

  • Dave

    My wife and I invited friends, neighbors, and a cousin who lives in the area over for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a wonderful mix of faiths and non-faiths, including Christian, Muslim, and Jewish backgrounds. We had a short meditation and sharing time before we ate. The menu included turkey, ham, and plenty of vegetarian dishes. That we live in a place where we can enjoy the company of such different cultures is something for which I’m very thankful.

  • My mother-in-law jokingly asked if I wanted to say grace. I replied that I wasn’t exactly a “god person,” and she said that I was surrounded by nine others.

    As my husband put it today, for all the annoyance that my in-laws heap upon me, at least the whole crew is atheist/agnostic.

    We had a very nice, entirely secular, celebration.

  • yesterday was thanksgiving, and thus i was around much of my family. running late for dinner, i threw on a shirt out the door we fly to mom and dad’s.

    i did not read what was written on my random shirt, however:

    “Rebel of Faith”

    it’s a cool-looking t. a slim-you-down black, painted with those ruby-red heretic words. problem is, the ruby red caught everyone’s eyes. first was my dear 80-year old mormon grandmother. her eyes were better than i had imagined: “rebel of faith?”, she inquired.

    “yes, it means rebel FOR faith”. i quickly responded. i was lying, and i was proud of my apostasy, but not to my grandma. not when she has lived a long life FOR faith. so deep was her belief in her holy fairy tale for all of these years that the very neurons and connections in her mind can never again be unwoven. critical thinking and skepticism will not squeeze through the plaque and cholesterol polluting her mind’s neural tubes.

    it’s over. SHE’s almost over. i say go with the flow. leave her happy. let her leave happy. when i noticed i had an extra shirt in the car, i changed it for her. and by the look on my mom’s face, i could see she felt relieved as well.

    it was just a random shirt from my closet, without any agenda meant by me. i am proud of my heresy, and proud to be a “rebel of faith”, but thanksgiving this year was of a much higher quality leaving religion aside and focusing on family.

  • Carolina Woods

    My mother, 94, doesn’t like big family gatherings anymore –too many people, too much noise. And, frankly, my husband and I aren’t all that interested either. I used to roast a turkey and make dinner at our house after I arrived home from work on Wednesday night (actually Thursday morning) around 2 a.m., then pack it all up, ready to take it to her house. (She lives an hour away, so if we went to pick her up and bring her home, then take her back, we would be driving 4 hours —so we’ve done this for years.) Usually, before dinner, my mother would bow her head, close her eyes and say a prayer outloud. We just sat quietly until she finished. Sometimes, in more recent years, she would forget.

    But, my mother hardly ate anything. So it seemed to be so much work for nothing. So my husband and I looked for an open restuarant —-we found only one.

    Yesterday, my mother didn’t pray at Denny’s.

    I have come out of the atheist closet with most of my friends, but I’ve never discussed it with relatives. I figure no use upsetting my mother at age 94. I will probably completely leave the closet after my mother dies.

  • garrick

    Religion has never been important in my immediate family, though I am the only self-proclaimed “atheist” (for over 15 years now). We have never said a prayer at dinner. Everyone in my family is “spiritual, but not religious.”

    One of my sisters, after having 2 kids, started attending church a few years ago. It is some watered-down liberal church.

    As everyone was sitting down at the table, the same sister pipes up, “everyone hold hands and let’s say grace.” A sister-in-law audibly laughs out, “grace? really?” My mom quickly covered by going around the table and everyone saying something about which they feel thankful. I think everyone (including me) pretended not to hear my sister.

  • dannyness

    My mom knows my wife and I are atheists and my dad’s side knows. They’re fine with it. I doubt my mom’s side knows. I don’t know. I doubt my mom told them. We haven’t gotten together with them since grandpa passed away, but when we did get together my wife and I would just sit quietly, head unbowed and hands below the table while everyone else said grace. I wouldn’t hide it from them. If the question were posed I would admit my non-belief, especially now that grandpa’s gone. The same goes for my wife’s side. Her dad’s side knows and is cool. On her mom’s side we just keep it quiet unless asked.

    This year we didn’t get together with either side. We opted to stay in town and volunteer delivering free meals around town. We cooked a mini Thanksgiving for her folks and brother last night.

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