Glad You Asked: Should Catholics celebrate Thanksgiving?

On this episode of the podcast, Damian Costello discusses the real history of the first Thanksgiving.

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Most people in the United States probably remember learning the story of the first Thanksgiving back in elementary school. The pilgrims, as the story goes, made the arduous journey to the Americas on a quest for religious liberty. There they encountered Indigenous people who kindly helped them settle in and get through the first harsh winter. The next year, following a successful first harvest, the pilgrims and their Indigenous friends got together and had a celebratory feast. 

However, as many now recognize, this story leaves out most of the ugly realities of colonization. Perhaps it is comforting and heart-warming for white Americans of European descent to imagine their ancestors sitting down with their Indigenous friends for a shared banquet. The first Thanksgiving seems like a convenient symbol for an imaginary past in which European colonizers and Indigenous groups worked out their differences in a spirit of collaboration and mutual tolerance—a symbol intended to disguise the real history of colonization, and all the deceit, violence, oppression, and even genocide it entails. With this in mind, Catholics might wonder whether celebrating Thanksgiving is in keeping with gospel values or whether it is morally problematic. 

On today’s episode of Glad You Asked, hosts Emily Sanna and Rebecca Bratten Weiss talk to guest Damian Costello about the real history of the first Thanksgiving and whether Catholics should celebrate this holiday. Costello is the author of Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism (Orbis Books). He is also the director of post-graduate studies at NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community, and the American cochair of the Indigenous Catholic Research Fellowship. He has studied and written extensively about the intersection of Catholic theology, Indigenous traditions, and colonial history.

Learn more about Indigenous and Catholic relations, and about Costello’s work, in the following links.

Glad You Asked is sponsored by the Claretian Missionaries.