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An Atheist on Thanksgiving

Updated on February 19, 2016
Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa is an American atheist with high-functioning autism trying to navigate a mostly religious world with no well-beaten path to follow

Can An Atheist Be Thankful? Or Is God The Only Possible Focus For Thanks?

Many people make the claim that Thanksgiving is strictly a Christian holiday and that non-Christians ought not to celebrate it. Others claim to feel sorry for atheists at Thanksgiving, based on the belief that atheists have no one to be thankful to and the belief that atheists are too self-centered to be thankful for anything.

I'm an atheist and I believe that Thanksgiving is a holiday for everyone who has something to be thankful for.

photo by Rachel Spauldilng

photo by Christa Richert
photo by Christa Richert

How Could Atheists Be Thankful?

Who could atheists possibly express their thanks to?

Not believing God is real doesn't mean we can't be thankful. Atheists can easily be thankful to our fellow human beings who've loved us, nurtured us, taught us, grown our food, collected our garbage, fixed our cars, and thousands of other things.

Atheists believe our food came to our table by the loving hands of friends and family, grocery store employees, truckers, processors, and farmers and it does not diminish the goodness of it. Atheists are just as thankful for things as religious people are - we just direct our thanks toward people who provided them rather than toward a God.

Some may say that atheists being appreciative of our resourceful, inventive, hard-working, and compassionate fellow humans (instead of the Gods we don't believe in) means we are ingrates. I don't agree. I believe that it is good to thank people for what they do for us and I also believe that thanking God doesn't cover the same bases. I think it's important to be thankful to people who help you and people who are good to you. After all, they chose to be helpful and giving. I think it's important to recognize and appreciate that choice.

photo by Nossirom
photo by Nossirom

What Else Can an Atheist Be Thankful For?

Atheists can express their thanks to people but we can also be thankful for things for which the person or persons responsible are no longer alive. Being thankful doesn't require a target. A person can think, "I am thankful for these things" without having to be thankful to God. Thankfulness is, in these cases, simply a realization of how fortunate we are.

Here are a few such things I am thankful for:

Spoken Language - Spoken language gives us the ability to communicate with each other, to ease our loneliness in this world, to form relationships and friendships and to share knowledge. Spoken language also gives us the ability to share our thoughts and lives with others.

Agriculture - When people were hunter gatherers they roamed around seeking food wherever they could find it or hunt it down. The development of agriculture allowed us to settle down and have permanent dwellings. Not to mention we got to eat more regularly! Not only did agriculture lead to permanent dwellings it led to commerce and commerce led to written language!

Permanent Dwellings - Permanent dwellings let us sleep in the same place night after night in comfort with no need to seek shelter somewhere new. This gives us a sense of security and the concept of home.

Written Language - Written language gives us the ability to communicate across time and distance. We can see the thoughts of long dead or far away people. We can also record our thoughts to share with many others and even ourselves as time passes.

The Wheel - Wheels move us and serve us in many ways. With the invention of the wheel came potter's wheels, wagons, and later gears in machines. The invention of the wheel was indeed one of the great cogs in the development of civilization.

Democracy - Democracy gives us the ability to have some say in our society and to be (theoretically) treated equally under the law.

Flush toilets - At some points in history no common sense at all was used in regard to sanitation. People used bowls to catch their waste and then dumped it somewhere, sometimes just right out their windows. Flush toilets keep our cities clean and comfortable.

Antiseptic and Antiseptic Procedures - Since the invention of antiseptic procedures shortly after Louis Pasteur released his germ theory surgery survival rates have increased dramatically, infant mortality has plunged, and injury has become far more survivable. With the invention of antiseptics and antiseptic procedures surgery began to have less and less in common with butchery.

Antibiotics - Since penicillin hit the scene thousands of antibiotics have been invented. Millions of lives are saved or improved by the use of antibiotics every year.

Anesthetics and Pain Relievers - Pain hurts! Before the invention of anesthetics simple procedures such as minor dentistry were hideously painful. Today, most surgery is relatively painless due to the use of anesthetics.

Is Thanksgiving a "Christians Only" Holiday?

Is Thanksgiving a "Christians Only" holiday?

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Why Thanksgiving Has Never Been a Strictly Christian Holiday - The First American Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris
The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

On the first American Thanksgiving, what did the Christian settlers do? They got together with the Native Americans for a giving of thanks. Claiming Thanksgiving as a strictly Christian holiday is, in my opinion, going against the spirit or intent of the first Thanksgiving. Without those non-Christian folks, the Native Americans, those settlers wouldn't have even been alive to be thankful. So, at the very least, the Native Americans deserve to lay claim to Thanksgiving as well as the Christians.

So, if people won't buy that atheists are capable of being thankful or that atheists have no one to thank at least I have the "in" on Thanksgiving as a person with Native American ancestry.

Should Atheists Be Allowed to Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Should atheists be allowed to celebrate Thanksgiving?

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What Are You Thankful For, Atheist or Not?

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      8 years ago from Canada

      I am thankful for the room over my head, for a loving husband, and for having food on my table each day. I am so very blessed.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      The notion that Thanksgiving is only for Christians is laughably absurd. The Native Americans would beg to differ.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      @anonymous: actualy most founding fathers were masons!!! I sudgest you return your old history book back to your preacher...

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      9 years ago from Vermont

      I am thankful to be able to express myself, live simply and have basic needs met without assistance. Anyone should be welcome to celebrate Thanksgiving in whatever way they find meaningful. It is not a Christian holiday, it is a day for being thankful and gathering together to share with or help others. Happy Thanksgiving, and blessings to you ...

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      @yourgoldenfuture: you have the right to believe in God, as I have the right not to believe in god's. no one is trying to convince you not to have your beliefs. an opinion was just pointed out!!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I am always learning something from you. This is something that never entered my mind before and didn't know that Thanksgiving could possibly be used in any way to exclude anyone....people do find a way for some reason that I will never understand. Thanksgiving is a personal reflection and not a religious artifact.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      @anonymous: You, like most christians, make something up if the truth does not fit your beliefs.

    • Kylyssa profile imageAUTHOR

      Kylyssa Shay 

      10 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      @yourgoldenfuture: I wouldn't want to convince you that God doesn't exist! I just write about atheism to expose the bigotry against it and to show people that atheists are normal, regular people, too. I try to always say, this is what I believe or don't believe rather than what I think other people should believe. If Thanksgiving is strictly for Christians, what about the Native Americans that kept the Pilgrims alive to be thankful that first Thanksgiving? Are they nothing?

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I am thankful that God has miraculous saved my life more than once...had accidents you normally would not survive...

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      you do wonderful lenses...but you could not convince me ...but my view of God is more adult as Paul said once...when you grow older.. you put away the childish things... I do not need to abuse God for my things...

    • Cinnamonbite profile image


      10 years ago

      @Kylyssa: and weird, LOLI don't know where this fad started but I never even heard of such a thing as Thanksgiving having anything to do with christians until about 2 years ago. It's not even like the pilgrims tried to make it a christian holiday, I mean, seriously, because they prayed before eating, that's the connection?

    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 

      10 years ago from US/TN

      I'm thankful for my family most of all... and also that I'm having a little more success controlling my anxiety disorder. It was so easy to forget about it when the medication was controlling it; now I'm grateful for every anxiety-free day.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      @anonymous: Haha, are you sure about that? Perhaps you should consider actually reading the Constitution and some material of the founding fathers, that is if you can name any of them.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      July 4 is also a religious holiday - the founding fathers were all religious men who wanted the United States to be a Christan country.

    • Kylyssa profile imageAUTHOR

      Kylyssa Shay 

      10 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      @MargoPArrowsmith: I didn't realize some people thought Thanksgiving was a Christian holiday until I was an adult. My parents always celebrated it and at school it was all about Pilgrims and Indians and turkey. But since then I've had some unpleasant encounters with people who think Thanksgiving is for Christians only. There haven't been too many but they were all loud, insistent, and kind of angry.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      10 years ago

      What on earth would make anyone think that Thanksgiving is a religious holiday? I don't get the point here.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Even though I live in the UK where Thanksgiving is not celebrated, I still feel it inside every year. The whole notion of a day set aside to feel thankful for whatever is good in my life is a marvelous idea.

    • retta719 profile image


      10 years ago from United States

      Crazy self absorbed people think Thanksgiving is only for them ~ Thanksgiving is totally for everyone and has zip to do with religion. American Thanksgiving is for all Americans regardless of their religion, beliefs, race, etc..... (same goes for Canadian Thanksgiving is for Canadians)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Those are great things to be thankful for!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Are there really folks out there who think Thanksgiving is a religious holiday? I know a lot of people think that it's a bit of a sham, but I didn't realize until now that people consider it religious. I HAVE heard people say things like, "You celebrate Christmas? I thought you were an atheist and didn't believe in Christmas," to which I can only sigh and shake my head.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      freedom of thought

    • PastorKay profile image

      Pastor Kay 

      10 years ago

      Thanksgiving is for everyone!

    • kerbev profile image

      Kerri Bee 

      10 years ago from Upstate, NY

      Merriam Webster defines "thankful" as being "conscious of benefit received". It does not put any restraints of where (or who) that benefit came from. Everyone can be grateful for what they have.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 

      10 years ago from California

      It never occurred to me that Thanksgiving was a Christian holiday. It's certainly not on the Christian calendar. It's an American holiday!Jewish Americans celebrate it too. I'm sure it never occurred to my relatives to ask themselves why they were celebrating it. They were Americans, and the concept of a communal feast where one stops and gives thanks is very, very old indeed (See: Passover... but it's a common theme in cultures).It's a time to be thankful. It's a time to remember our nation's history, and to remember the Native Americans who helped the Pilgrims survive. For those who follow a religion, they give thanks with prayer. But thanks are certainly not a Christian prerogative, and I'd be shocked and a little offended if someone "pitied" me for not being capable of giving thanks!

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      10 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      I am thankful for my son and wonderful husband and family. For my good health. You can be thankful without being religious!

    • calendarsblog profile image


      10 years ago

      I totally agree: atheists too can be thankful and celebrate Thanksgiving. Also, harvest festivals aren't strictly Christian, they have to do with celebrating the harvest. Well - it doesn't take believing in a deity to be thankful for the food on our plate.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      10 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      I am thankful for Thanksgiving! Not being raised in the US we didn't have such a celebration when I was growing up, although there was a history of harvest festivals - not necessarily Christian in origin. Gratitude and expressions of thanks are good, whether they are religious or not.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I am thankful for being able to write here on Squidoo and meeting wonderful people. In regards to your question I believe that people are free to believe or not believe in anything they want. We are born with a free will to do with our lives whatever we choose.

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 

      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      I am a christian and therefore my thanks is expressed towards God, but you as an atheist also experience that feeling of thanksgiving. Maybe your understanding of God is not a good one and maybe I wouldn't believe in that god either. Bless you anyway.I'm glad to know you. Hope you can feel the same about me.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      10 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm thankful that we can have this discussion without everyone ranting and raving (I hope).

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      10 years ago from UK

      There are so many things in life to be thankful for. Everything that makes life a little easier or a little happier.


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