Giving Thanks

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happy-thanksgiving-3767426_1280This Thursday—Thanksgiving for Americans—is a day of feasting and giving thanks. I hope all of you celebrating enjoy time with family and friends, and remember and recognize Gaia’s role in providing this bounty: the food that sun, soil, air, and water grew; and the energy—mostly drawn from Earth’s crust—that was used to process, ship, and cook that food, and to get your family and friends near enough to you to share it together.

Give thanks to Gaia for all of this, and for all human hands that helped make your celebration possible as well: family members who prepared the meal, farmers who grew it; workers who processed and shipped it; the Native Americans who stewarded the Americas for millennia making it the rich agricultural land that we took over; and for those who eat turkey or other animals at their tables, give thanks also for their sacrifice—not willingly made—to nourish your body.

This is a day when we also should give thanks for all those who play an important role in our lives—our spouses, parents, children, extended family, colleagues, neighbors, and friends. Those who make life a bit easier, more joyful, and more meaningful (even if at times, it may not always feel that way).

But what does giving thanks truly mean?

Often giving thanks is simply a prayer said by rote. “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen” is the blessing I said nearly every day at dinnertime growing up—often too quickly, and too unthinkingly.

The act of giving thanks could simply be a prayer (like the one below)—ideally, then, done regularly and not just once a year and done slowly enough that it doesn’t become an exercise in nonattentive rote recitation. Or it could be more extensive than that: a 24-hour fast before the feast. Or an act of charity, whether finding a way to help someone else who needs help in your own network, or by helping through a community institution. Or even a few minutes of prompted silent meditation before the meal to reflect on all that we have thankful for or a post-Thanksgiving walk—perhaps in silence, perhaps in a more natural setting—to do the same.

In that thoughtful time—whether during the moment of silence, the fast, or one’s time volunteering—it is particularly worth keeping in mind that because of the design of our current system, this bounty will not last. One day feasts like this will be far rarer and humbler as we go about the business of surviving The Quickening (the acceleration of the climate crisis). Because of that, be even more present and grateful today for the bounty we have. And because of that, remember not to be resentful in the coming years of deprivation. And because of that, try to share the bounty you have with others who already do not have the same fortune as you or I do. Not just at Thanksgiving time but year round.

Active Gratitude

A few years back Joana Macy wrote about Active Hope as a remedy to the depression-inducing climate emergency we’re living through. She meant the second definition of hope (i.e. desire rather than think is likely). That is to say, hope for the future you wish to be rather than think is “likely to happen.” And thus she argues, no matter the likelihood, take an active part in manifesting that positive future—don’t passively wait for “external agencies to bring about what we desire.”

Gratitude, as well, should not be a passive act. Recognize that expressing gratitude is an essential builder of family and community ties. Participating actively in preparing, paying for the Thanksgiving dinner (and washing the dreaded post-Thanksgiving dish pile) is also a signifier of gratitude. Helping others who have less is also an active way to express gratitude, as is addressing the root causes of that inequity.

True charity means not just treating the symptoms of our broken system, but trying to change the structural violence embedded in that system—whether that’s through addressing environmental justice issues, the sale of opioids, our failed healthcare system, or, of course, our dependence on fossil fuels and unbounded growth that will derail all future stability and potential for justice if not addressed immediately and seriously.

So, I’d add that one really easy way to express Active Gratitude would be to join your local Climate Protest the day after Thanksgiving (a much better way to spend Black Friday than shopping!). After the last global protest, I reflected on the ideal role of Gaians in the movement—one of truth telling and challenging the climate movement to be honest and bolder with communicating what solutions and sacrifices are necessary. And that will be an important way to engage. But no matter your level of involvement, it is important that as many of us as possible get out and march at rallies like these! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving (or Dinner) Prayer

Let us pause now before this meal to give thanks to Gaia for this food—for the fresh water, clean air, soil, and stable climate that are all necessary to grow this bounty. Without Gaia, neither this feast, nor we, would be here.

We offer our gratitude for those beings who were sacrificed for our nourishment, and for the many human hands that went to grow, process, and deliver this food to us. And for our family and friends here today, for their help in preparing this meal, making this day possible, and especially for their love and continuing presence in our lives, and for all our loved ones who could not be with us today.

And let us recognize that not all are as fortunate as we are here, and that in the future, we too may not be as fortunate as we are now, but we are grateful for the joy and bounty that Gaia has graced us with today.

[A minute of silence]


That’s my first attempt at a Gaian Thanksgiving Prayer. Improvements and edits welcome in the comments below!

A traditional Thanksgiving Dinner from Ms. Jones via Wikipedia
A traditional Thanksgiving Dinner from Ms. Jones via Wikipedia
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4 Responses

  1. Jan Steinman

    Then there’s the way Jon Stewart put it: “We celebrated Thanksgiving in a traditional way. We invited all the neighbours over for a feast, then we killed them and took their land.”

    • Erik Assadourian

      Yup, there’s that. Is Thanksgiving irreparably tainted because of this history? Possibly. But is there a way we can keep recognizing the injustice we’ve done (and continue to do) toward Indigenous peoples (see, for example:, while also still celebrating fall harvest ceremonies, giving thanks to the Earth, farmers, the Indigenous peoples who made this land so fertile over millennia of stewardship, and all others who have helped make this harvest possible?

  2. Larry Landry

    Hello Erik from Larry Landry. I am an Alaskan who sought out and met you many years ago in Washington DC, intrigued by some of the stuff you were writing for the World Resources Institute. Every once in a while I read one of your pieces. This one today jumped out at me for the wrong reasons, the photo. As it says on your creed above, “we commit to living radically sustainable lives”. How does the picture you used in any way represent that? From the looks of it, those apples, grapes, oranges, bananas, persimmons, turkey and pretty much everything else on the table are exotics that came from the store. Why not use a picture from your own celebration that hopefully manifests the wholesomeness and beauty that radical sustainability can bring to the table? Sorry for the downer greeting, but as one whose Thanksgiving meal consists solely of foods we’ve grown or harvested, it leapt out at me.

    • Erik Assadourian

      Hi Larry,

      Glad to reconnect. Some replies to your comment–particularly on its context. This essay is 3 years old (not sure why Resilience chose to post it now, other than I referred back to it in last week’s essay). At the time of its publication, I had just started writing these essays and wasn’t even sure anyone was reading (at that point). There was no budget for photos and so I relied (and still rely) on creative commons photos. If you search for Thanksgiving photos (or even vegetarian meals), you’re not going to find very many appetizing ones on sites like Pixabay, Pexels, etc. I guess I could have staged a photo but that’s beyond the realm of this humble writer. But your point of this photo not representing the aspiration is fair.

      Though to respond further, so few people grow food anymore (especially enough to make a diverse and delicious feast) that that’s a bit of an extreme goal anyway. And local is not always better. California rice is less sustainable than Bangladeshi rice and there are many other examples. So the key is mindfulness of every meal, and gratitude for the food as every calorie has an impact on a planet of 8 billion people. That said, choosing lower on the food chain, organic, sustainably produced, local when possible, are all good ‘green’ goals and I try to follow these as much as possible. But not to the point where it distracts from the bigger goals of less (hence the fasting), of degrowth, and of shifting cultures to rebuild our broken relationship with our larger self, Gaia, and relearn that we are completely and utterly dependent on this planet for our wellbeing–which sadly we’re still not even realizing even as disaster after disaster should wake us up to this fact.

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