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Skipping thanksgiving: is selfishness snuffing out our thankful hearts?

The day after Halloween, I went to the store to pick up a few things. In the seasonal section, one side of the aisle displayed leftover Halloween candy. The other held Christmas giftwrap and ribbons.

Typically, this isn’t a surprise. After all, most stores started preparing for Christmas of ’16 way back in June of ’87. Each year, anxious to cash in on every second of the season, shops and stores await the earliest possible moment to roll out Christmas merchandise with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. That’s just the way it is in a consumeristic society.

20161101_1343431But as I walked down this aisle, I noted an unintended metaphor. One side of the aisle represented a holiday which calls for circling the neighborhood in a silly costume and extracting boatloads of candy (if you have charm, stamina, and a killer costume – pun intended). The other side of the aisle represented a holiday known for massive overspending on gifts which are often unneeded and unwanted (unless they’re really cool, like an XBOX).

For the record, I absolute love Halloween and Christmas. They’re my favorite times of the year. I really—I mean, really—get into them.

Nevertheless, I noticed a bigger message: Between the two sides of the aisle promoting these two days of materialistic hedonism, one holiday was missing.

And its absence reveals our hearts.

Why is Thanksgiving so forgotten, a mere blip on the calendar? Oh, don’t get me wrong – I know that when it arrives, most of us will get together with our families and eat like horses. But one can’t deny that in the grand marketing scheme of all things autumn, it’s virtually ignored (save for the heaping pile of turkeys in the meat section). More and more of us are beginning to refer to it, in less mushier terms, as “Turkey Day.”

gal-black-friday-3-jpgCompared to Christmas, or even Halloween, there’s much less preparation and anticipation related to Thanksgiving. In fact, most people seem more excited about hitting the malls on Black Friday than about giving thanks. Stores now minimize the day even more by essentially extending Black Friday throughout the entire month of November. Some stores even stay open all day and all night on Thanksgiving, encouraging further disregard (by both shoppers and employees) of family time and the idea of thankfulness – though other stores are starting to buck that trend.[1]

Still, Thanksgiving needs better PR.

True, when it comes to marketing and merchandising, it’s not the easiest holiday to promote. Its very nature is about being grateful for what we have, not about buying more. So in one sense, I understand – and even appreciate – the fact that it’s not over-hyped by marketers. I’d hate to see it ruined that way, like so many other holidays.

But maybe the fact that it’s harder to “sell” is just one more excuse for ignoring it.

So why is Thanksgiving so overlooked?

We’re an entitlement society. Goofy, the Disney character, used to sing a little lyric: “Oh, the world owes me a living.” Humorous, yes. But sadly, this appears to be our new national anthem. We truly believe the world does owe us a living. We believe someone else should hand us a prepaid education, career, place to live, and more. Even our traditional protest mantra screams entitlement. You know how it goes (and you can fill in the blank): “What do we want? [____]! When do we want it? NOW!”

The problem with entitlement – believing we deserve things – is that it preempts gratitude and thankfulness. Giving thanks requires an admission that we don’t deserve what we have received – so if we believe we actually do deserve it, we can’t be truly grateful. What are three blessings in your life—right this moment—that you don’t deserve?

We find it hard to feel thankful. Maybe you’ve been through tough times. Maybe the bad news was really bad, and it just kept coming. Maybe you’ve felt overwhelmed by sadness over circumstances, or even by anger at God for letting you down. In such times we may find it hard to give thanks.

Trust me, I get this one. When my life collapsed, I felt this way for years. Then I heard a sermon which recommended giving thanks aloud for five things each day. So my wife and I began doing this every day. Often my list sounded like the same empty recitation, day after day. You know: “I am thankful for my house, my wife, my family, my job…”

At first it seemed utterly meaningless and superficial, but we kept doing it anyway.

And then I began to realize: I don’t deserve any of this. When my education and career imploded and I had no way to rebuild, it was during a deep recession and many people were losing their homes—but I was able to keep mine. Many marriages collapse under such extreme stress and heartache, but I had a loving wife who stayed with me and became a strength to me. And the truth is, although I was emotionally dead and drifting, God took care of us financially. I believe giving thanks aloud for all of these undeserved blessings—even though it often felt an empty exercise—actually helped me see how undeservedly blessed I was. It began pulling me out of my “Eyeore” worldview.

On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, he ate his final supper with his disciples. When he broke the bread and poured the wine, an act we remember as communion, he gave thanks before passing each element (Luke 22:17-19). He knew that within a matter of hours he would be unjustly tried, tortured, humiliated, abandoned, and executed in an excruciatingly painful way.

Yet he gave thanks.

For the broken bread, representing his broken body.

For the poured wine, representing his spilled blood.

Jesus gave thanks.

Again, I absolutely love this time of year. I love celebrating Advent—thinking of the coming of the Messiah, a gift that I, in a million years, could never deserve. I am not entitled to it. I am not deserving of it. Yet it is a gift given to me—and all of us—willingly.

The Christmas season will come. Black Friday will be here in no time. The lights, the joy, the anticipation of the season are just around the corner.

Let’s start by preparing our hearts to be thankful.

Let thankfulness be the truest beginning to the advent season.

Let’s start by being thankful now.


[1] Many malls are closing their doors on Thanksgiving day, such as the ginormous Mall of America. . To go one further, REI, the outdoor sporting goods store has elected to even remained closed on Black Friday.

Published inCultureThankfulness

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