Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
-- William Arthur Ward
What ever happened to Thanksgiving? Over the last few years, the day set by presidential decree of Abraham Lincoln “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” has transformed itself into the beginning of the Christmas Shopping Season. Sorry. I just need to get this off my chest.
As a child, I was always focused on the family television set (we had only one and Black and White at that!) qatching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Of course, at the END of the parade was the jolly old elf himself with sleigh full of toys and reindeer, too. It was doubly special for us because Santa was portrayed by Charlie Howard, a resident of the small canal town in Western New York where I grew up. There, he had established a Santa Claus School to teach individuals how to dress and act the part of the revered Christmas figure (but I digress).
The key notion here was that Santa came AT THE END of the parade – signifying that AFTER Thanksgiving, we turned the attention of hearth and home toward Christmas. It provides a great distinction: after we have followed the lead of the 16th president to give praise and thanksgiving to God, we can get about the business of the hustle and bustle of commercial Christmas. Regrettably, the last several years has seen Thanksgiving blended into the generic “holiday season” without a purpose of its own. This year came the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. This year, the isn’t even digested before the shopping rush is on.
Social covenants depend upon a common understanding and wiling participation of members of a society. ‘Till now, it was part of our social covenant (I believe), that we celebrated Thanksgiving in the spirit in which it was established: a day to stop and think, a day for families to gather (natural families and families of the heart), a day to express genuine gratitude for what we have received in the bounty of this earth, “our island home.”
Interestingly the God part of this holiday has taken a back seat (as with just about all other religious holidays). Churches and ecumenical communities are forced by social circumstance to celebrate Thanksgiving not on the day, nor even the eve, but on the Sunday of choice (before of after) the Thursday holiday. Some of this is because of the retail mania that has overtaken what stood for over a hundred years as a provision in our social compact – no Christmas until after Thanksgiving.
We have crossed that threshold, and as with all such realities, the genie will never be put back into the bottle. I lament this loss, deeply.
However, it does not stop me from celebrating the day as it was intended. I, for one, will join with my family and friends to celebrate the bountiful grace of God that has blessed us in so many ways in the year now passing. And I urge you to so the same. Keep the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving!