Thinking About...Thanks

I’ve been thinking about thanks. With two days left before Thanksgiving, I figure it’s about time I give it some thought. Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday. Whatever its humble Puritan beginnings may have been or whatever President Lincoln envisioned when he decreed it as an annual holiday beginning in 1863, Thanksgiving now enacts two American ideals: entitlement and consumption. You’ll notice that neither one is thanks. Thanksgiving first expresses our entitlement. We deserve to be free from work or school or responsibility for four days. And we deserve to gorge ourselves in a feast of over-eating. That’s why we grow impatient when traffic slows down our holiday travel plans. That’s why on Thursday morning millions of us will reach for pants with elastic waistbands. A potential day of thanks is displaced by self-centered and self-indulgent gluttony. In this way Thanksgiving captures the pervasive cultural mood of entitlement. But it captures my mood, too. I’m deserving of time off, time for myself, time for eating.

Thanksgiving also expresses our inveterate consumption. The holiday has evolved to be identified with Black Friday; a day for consuming stuff. The day after the day of thanks, our national priority is shopping, buying, and debt-expansion. And every year that priority is encroaching nearer and nearer to Thanksgiving itself. Stores that once opened at 9 AM, then 7 AM, are now bracing for stampeding crowds (literally) at 5 AM. So Thanksgiving likewise captures the American mood of consumption, which is also my mood. I’ve been trained to think of Thanksgiving as the time when I begin to think about the stuff I want others to buy me for Christmas.

In light of what Thanksgiving has become for us, permit a couple of modest suggestions: What if this year you read a simple prayer of thanks before your meal? What if this year you spend fifteen minutes during the meal (say in between your first and second enormous platefuls of food) not swapping Christmas gift lists, but swapping reasons you are thankful?

This year (as with many) the Sunday after Thanksgiving coincides with the first Sunday of Advent in the church calendar. Advent is the period when the church prepares for and expresses thanks for the coming of Jesus. May we allow this calendar juxtaposition to spur us to gratitude (rather than entitlement and consumption). May Thanksgiving and Advent this year be less about stuff (and stuffing) for us and more about thanks for Jesus.