Give Christmas its due, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. In fact, I find it very unbecoming that we seem to skip over Thanksgiving for Christmas year after year. As stores put away the Halloween decorations and candy on November 1st, the Christmas decorations are waiting in the wings to roll out to center stage, and the Christmas season is on! This is a shame.
Thanksgiving stands apart from Christmas and Easter because although they may be considered “holy” days, they have become confused by wrapped presents, lighted trees, painted eggs, and chocolate bunnies. Thanksgiving—though not religious in origin—is no less holy as it perpetually resists the urge to be about presents and instead remains about presence—which is, ironically, the greatest gift we can offer each other.
Unfortunately, our culture of consumerism has allowed the Thanksgiving gathering to become a simple prelude to Black Friday shopping as we spend the day pillaging sales advertisements and planning our purchasing conquests. In recent years, Black Friday shopping has even spilled back into Thanksgiving Day itself as we often head out for shopping excursions even before all the plates have been cleaned and the leftovers put away.
That has never been the spirit of Thanksgiving. We are taught that—at least in intention—Thanksgiving is set aside as a time to pause and to celebrate the bounty of the fall harvest. It seems cliché today, but as school children, we learned that this is what the Pilgrims did. They invited their Native American neighbors to join them to celebrate that the hard times had not beat them, and together they had survived another year. As time goes by, the harvest would be sometimes good and sometimes disappointing, but they would survive together, and they would celebrate together—around the table—giving thanks.
This is a practice we can replicate even today. We can all—as a community—celebrate the harvest in whatever way that is meaningful to each of us. While most of us have never harvested a single vegetable, even the youngest among us can recognize how their efforts during the year have borne fruit. Children studied in school to learn, to grow and to mature. We worked hard in our jobs to provide for those we love. We were generous with our resources to help provide comfort and care when others experience hard times. And of course, our community and loved ones did the same for us. At its most pure, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remember how we show up for each other.
As we once again gather around the table together this coming Thanksgiving—old and young, loved ones and new friends, family and perfect strangers—we can still appreciate the presence of those gathering with us for a meal and not for what presents we might get, but instead because we value them being present to us, many of whom we might only see on Thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving, stop and celebrate your harvest. You have accomplished much. For another year, you have provided and been provided for. The harvest has been sufficient. Stop for a few hours and be thankful.
And remember, presence to one another is always the most significant expression of Thanksgiving.
I believe that appreciation is a holy thing–that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred. ― Fred Rogers