How to celebrate Thanksgiving with integrity

Thanksgiving table. Image courtesy of McZusatz/Flickr.

Given the many troubling developments in our own country and in the world, it is important for our psychological and spiritual health to take a day to thank the universe for the good that still sustains us (as some of us do in our daily prayers and in our Shabbat, Sunday, Friday or other observances). Below are some tips about how to do this while remaining in integrity with our concerns about the wellbeing of Earth and the wellbeing of our fellow humans. We do this celebration while simultaneously affirming our solidarity with Native Americans from whom the land we live on was stolen and with apology and mourning for the victims of the genocide that Western European settlers brought to this land.

Many people, whether celebrating Thanksgiving alone or with friends or family, take a moment to to ask themselves and each person they might be spending part or all of Thanksgiving to say out loud what they are grateful for.

That is a wonderful practice to build upon. But too often when we are with family or friends there may be some hidden injunctions from friends or family that weaken the meaning of this practice, such as "don't talk for more than a sentence" or "be sure to say that you are grateful for something your parent, partner, child, etc. has done or been" or "don't go beyond the strictly personal or in any way make your ideas sound like they have an ethical/political demand connected to them." You can challenge those kinds of demands or subtle messages BEFORE people sit down for their Thanksgiving meal, but there is no reason to disrupt the good vibes during the meal itself if the hosts are resolute in not allowing anything serious to be discussed before people begin to eat. Instead, you can stay in integrity with your own feelings and thoughts by bringing them up during conversation in the middle or end of the meal. Your concerns about the direction of our country and about the destruction of the earth, when posed in the generous and empathic way we do it in Tikkun that don't seem to be denouncing anyone who disagrees with you, are ideas and feeling which are legitimate and they deserve to be heard. If you want to have a quick refresher on that, please get and read my book Revolutionary Love (ask whatever online book service to send it overnight delivery).

Prepare in advance, if at all possible, and let others know that this is what you’d like to have included in Thanksgiving. If you’ve been invited to someone else’s home, ask them in advance for permission to include some of what we are suggesting below to be part of the Thanksgiving day celebration.

To assist you in this process, consider some of the following steps:

  1. Write down the things, relationships, experiences, etc. for which you are grateful in your life, the life of your family, the reality of any community of which you are part, or any aspect of life on this planet your genuinely appreciate.
  2. Bring (and ask others to bring) your/their favorite poems or prayers or favorite creative writings by themselves or others whose words they admire.  Or, ask each person to make copies of the poems/readings they want to share so that they can be passed around to each person there. If you are alone, drench yourself in the poems/prayers/readings that give you the most pleasure.
  3. Rejoice in the opportunity you have to connect with other people who share your desire for a world filled with love, caring for the earth, caring for each other, and caring for “the Other” (for example, the refugees and the victims of hate crimes or sexual harassment and abuse, or those who are victims of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and every other form of xenophobia). Please remember that even if you are not currently part of a family or group of friends who share your values, nevertheless there are at the very least hundreds of millions of people on this planet who do, including tens of thousands who identify with Tikkun magazine, our Network of Spiritual Progressives, the Love and Justice movement we are building, and the message of my book Revolutionary Love. YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN YOUR DESIRE FOR A WORLD OF LOVE AND JUSTICE!!!!!
  4. Please remember and give some attention to the homeless and the hungry in the U.S. and find ways to assist them. Remember the 1.5 billion people on the earth who don't have enough to eat and are in fact in deep crisis. Please also urge others to open their hearts to the asylum seekers and refugees in the U.S. and around the world. Keep in mind the children who have been kidnapped from their parents by order of President Trump and his “just following orders" Ice organization and border police. Share with those who are with you on Thanksgiving that those who are seeking refuge in the U.S. do so not because of our “mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam” but rather to escape the wrecked societies that American policies generated and to escape the resulting extremes of poverty, joblessness, hunger, violence and in many cases actual or potential rape and murder! These are the refugees that the political Right tells us we should fear, while the best in the American tradition and the heritage of most religions teach us we should be welcoming and providing support. And to be fair, we have to recognize that this wrong-headed and selfishness-oriented response was also the policy of the Obama Administration which deported over 2 million undocumented working people—more than all the previous presidents of the U.S. combined. And discuss also what you think are the right grounds for impeachment—grounds that speak to the hearts of the American people, including the kidnapping of children, the oppression of asylum seekers, the encouragement of bullying and violence and hatred, and the dismantling of the few previous attempts by past administrations to protect some small part of the life support system of the planet.

The Thanksgiving Meditation, Prayer, or Guided Visualization
(read and discuss this at whatever Thanksgiving celebration you attend):

Today we give thanks to this incredible universe for all the beauty, the goodness and the miracles that surround us every day and to which we have given too little conscious attention. And we celebrate the ability to be with friends, neighbors, family or others on this holy day of joyful appreciation of all the good in our lives.

Our beautiful and life-sustaining planet is in danger, so on this Thanksgiving we recommit ourselves to taking all steps necessary to reverse the processes that threaten the life-support systems of the planet, and to preserve the rich diversity of life forms and of beauty that we experience daily on planet earth. We are part of the unity of all being, a manifestation of God's or Goddesses' love, or of the loving energy of the universe that brought together our parents to bring us into life. While we are alive, we recommit ourselves to making every day a mini thanksgiving in which we take time to celebrate the grandeur and mystery of being itself.

This is the right moment, then, for us to also put forward our prayers or intentions for a world of peace, justice and environmental sanity. We who recognize that our ability to live today enjoying all the benefits of North America was achieved in part through a genocidal struggle against the native peoples of this land are not willing to live through another period in which other peoples may be losing their lands to settlers or oppressive colonization or through brutal wars.

This year it is hard not to be dismayed at the murdering that goes on between Israel and Palestine, and the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians. We know that peace is only possible when the right of Palestinians to national self-determination is granted and Israel helps the Palestinian people create a politically and economically sustainable state. This Thanksgiving some of us commit ourselves to doing all we can to stop the conflict and to start the process of non-violent open-hearted reconciliation and peace. We reject the advice of the “political realists” who tell us that this struggle will go on forever, at untold levels of human suffering. First step: end the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza while providing an international peace force that will prevent any further acts of violence toward Israel or toward Palestine. Till that happens, our task is to insist that Israel become a democracy  by granting “one person, one vote” for anyone living under Israeli rule (the rest of the terms of what a lasting peace agreement should look like are already worked out in the Tikkun book Embracing Israel/Palestine which you can obtain at Second step, reject domination as a strategy and adopt instead the strategy of generosity by beginning to implement a Global Generosity (Marshall) Plan to once and for all end domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health dare, and to repair the global environment. This idea is more fully developed in Revolutionary Love which you can order by going to and then clicking thru to our book service at Reach and Teach, or by getting your local bookstore to carry it and display it so others can see it, pick it up, and see why it interests them.

Some of us, whether or not we believe in God or Goddess or Spirit, are Spiritual Progressives. What it means to be a spiritual progressives is to want the world to be reorganized in ways that promote love, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of all that is.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we affirm our dedication to being “unrealistic” for peace, social justice, environmental sanity, and a world based on love, caring, kindness and generosity.  In so doing, we will make realistic what at first seemed to be unrealistic. And so it is. Amen.

Written by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor Tikkun,

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