It seems every year that the Christmas decorations come out earlier and earlier at most retailers. The big box stores barely wait for Halloween to pass and for the trick or treaters to change out of their costumes and back into regular clothes before putting out the artificial trees, string lights, inflatable reindeer, Santa, snowmen, and a whole unbelievable host of other holiday accoutrements for the home.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas (regardless of what you may hear from my wife). I mean it’s one of the most awesome holidays of the year. As a kid I used to get so excited setting up my collection of nativity scenes, hanging stockings over the fireplace, and decking out the Christmas tree with ornaments, lights, and tinsel. And, as an adult and a parent myself now, it’s only gotten better. I still get excited about the presents, but it’s more to see the kids’ reactions as they unwrap their presents. That look of wonder, anticipation, and sheer joy in their eyes is unlike anything else and it is one of the purest joys a parent gets to experience. It’s a chance to celebrate with friends and family, to hear and sing carols and hymns, and to take a moment to recognize the greatest gift the world has ever known in the form of the Christ child.
But the rush to leap immediately from October 31st to December 25th (with a brief stop on the craziest of all shopping days, “black Friday”) has come at the expense of our nation’s first and most important holiday: Thanksgiving.
Christmas carols start playing the first day of November in most stores. By the end of that first week, if the Christmas decorations and displays aren’t up yet, store managers are frantic to know why. Black Friday ads are rolling out, and staff is on notice that until the first week in January, vacation and leave are going to be tough to come by outside of emergencies, serious illness, or a death in the family. I’ve worked in several large retailers during this time of year, and the mood evolves steadily from anticipation, to anxiety, to downright dread as Black Friday approaches. The staff doesn’t even see the holiday that comes the day before, only the chaos they know is waiting for them once doors open the day after.
In their rush to be the first to open their doors, the first to tap into the pool of waiting and eager shoppers, some businesses have even decided to open on Thanksgiving Day itself. Some people have maligned these businesses and called it “unfair” to demand employees to sacrifice time with their families on a holiday in order to boost sales and be the proverbial early bird catching the worm. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that businesses wouldn’t be opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day unless there were people, and a significant number of them, clamoring to get in and shop. With the increasing competitiveness of the modern consumer market, some businesses have made the decision that being the first to offer an opportunity at shopping the “Friday” sales after Thanksgiving is worth whatever backlash they may face for opening their doors on Thanksgiving Thursday itself.
The growing disregard to Thanksgiving Day as a true holiday to be observed with reverence and contemplation bothers me.
Thanksgiving was originally envisioned as a day to pause, to step back from the daily chaos and pressures of life, and to give thanks back to God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us; first and foremost being the very blessings of Freedom, Liberty, and Independence. It was a call for the nation to remember where we had come from, and what we had to go through to reach the other side. It was an admonition to seek forgiveness and to ask for help from on high to fulfill out public and private duties with honor and with dedication.
More than football, more than turkey, and definitely more than retail sales and Christmas shopping, Thanksgiving Day is about truly, humbly taking stock of our many blessings and giving thanks for them publicly and privately.
This is an incredibly important holiday to hold tightly to now more than possibly ever before in our nation’s history. We spend so much our lives working for and striving towards things we don’t have that we either need or crave that it becomes easy to blind ourselves to what we already have. When you stop believing that you have things in your life worth being thankful for, the door is opened wide for greed, envy, and eventually spite to take hold and twist your heart against those around you that are seen as “better off” for whatever reason. It’s easy to be jealous of an old friend’s brand new, fully-loaded pickup or SUV rather than giving thanks for the fact that my 10 year old Jeep is still running strong with no major issues or repairs needed. And who hasn’t wondered at one time or another how a former roommate managed to afford a brand spanking new five bedroom four bathroom masterpiece of a home instead of giving thanks for the roof over our own heads and the ability to provide a safe and happy home for our kids?
Thanksgiving reminds us to stop and really look at what we have, not what we want to have. When I stop and really think about the multitude of blessings I have received personally, it is overwhelming. I have a family that is supportive and loving beyond all understanding and explanation, both the family I grew up with and the one I joined when I married my wife. I have three amazing kids who have become my purpose for striving to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, and a better son. I have somehow managed to be blessed with a wife who is a patient and caring mother for my two sons and our daughter, who puts up with my aggravation, and who stands by and supports me no matter what. I have a job that, while far from my dream employment, pays the bills and allows me to pursue my dreams of becoming an author. I have a book on the market that has sold over 11,000 copies and I’ve just finished the manuscript for the second book in the series, putting me well on my way to realizing the life-long dream of becoming a full-time author. I have a church family that is just as loving and supportive of me as my blood family, and who have encouraged me to grow in my faith and take on new roles and responsibilities I never would have imagined just a few years ago.
I could keep listing things like this for literally days and barely scratch the surface. My entire life is a collection of blessings too extensive to name and too overwhelming to comprehend. When I take stock of those blessings it reminds me how little I have done to deserve them and how truly, humbly thankful I am for them. And that realization is what Thanksgiving Day is really all about in the first place. As Denzel Washington said recently in a speech, “Give thanks for blessings every day, every day. Practice gratitude. Encourage others. It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time…” (article about the speech here). When you have a thankful heart and practice a life of gratitude then entitlement, resentment, hate, anger, greed, envy…all of the negative, destructive, and toxic emotions that slowly eat away at our hearts and mind become so much easier to resist and to eventually dispel completely. Gratitude and thankfulness are rooted in love, understanding, compassion, and humility—as a nation and as individuals, we need more of that in our lives and not less.
George Washington’s original proclamation on Thanksgiving was a call for the nation to humble itself and to first recognize the fact that we are truly blessed as few people in human history have been, and then to give thanks to God for those many blessings (you can read it here). Between now and this coming Thursday afternoon, take a quiet moment and consider the blessings in your own life and give thanks for them. Consider how many people have blessed your life and how you can return that favor by blessing them in return and passing those blessings on to others. Make a commitment to remember your blessings and to give thanks for them every day, not just on one Thursday afternoon in November. Live a life of gratitude and humble thanksgiving as a daily practice.
1Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”