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By David Whitlock
Have you noticed how easily we pass from Halloween to Christmas, from October to December, from “Trick or Treat,” to “Here Comes Santa Claus?”
And Thanksgiving gets bypassed once again. Only now it happens with greater celerity and casualness. We’re beyond feeling any guilt about it.
I understand. I feel it, too. Thanksgiving’s absence matches the seasons: October is filled with fall foliage, arresting in its brilliant colors of orange, yellow, amber, and red as the maple, ash, oak, and hickory trees reach the peak of their autumn display; December, with the Christmas decorations of green wreaths, red and white candy canes, shiny silver tinsel over boughs, is a month of anticipation: the possibility, the hope, for a blanket of white snow on Christmas Eve, the jolly St. Nick Christmas stockings in red, white, and green, hanging over the warm glow of the fireplace, awaiting the descent of Santa down the chimney in his contrasting uniform of red and white with black boots and belt.
But Thanksgiving falls in November, when the fall leaves have disappeared and have to be raked, the tree limbs are starkly naked, the sun sets before you get home from work, and a gray drabness seems to permeate the universe with a dismal somberness. Thanksgiving, set in between the ghosts and goblins of Halloween and the Santa and elves of Christmas, doesn’t stand a chance with its hapless turkey marked down on special at the local grocery store. Thanksgiving is in-between, and like the insecure middle child, seems uncomfortably out of place, having to fight for attention and recognition.
But it goes deeper than merely the differences in seasons. We Americans identify ourselves, the United States, as a consumer nation, and we do so with good reason: with only 5 percent of the world’s population we consume 25 percent of the world’s energy resources. We accumulate stuff and rent spaces to store the stuff we’ve bought on credit. And our lifestyle has come to roost on Wall Street with a financial debacle, in our environment with compromised resources, and in our health with overstressed bodies. We take and take, and stretch and stretch, for more and more, until we have made ourselves sick with Halloween candy and driven ourselves in debt with Christmas gifts.
And there sits that lonely turkey in the middle of the table. We barely have time anymore to pause, and sit, and share stories with family about life, and memories, and journeys, so busy we are with our rushing, and work, and previous commitments.
We would do well, tonight or tomorrow, to reflect on our Thanksgiving roots, remembering that the first Thanksgiving was born out of adversity: a few pilgrims and Native Americans, having survived the harsh winter of 1620, gathered to give thanks for the harvest of 1621. Grateful for the basics of life - God, family, and friends - they shared some food, laughed, talked, and rejoiced amidst their grim circumstances. It wasn’t until 1863 that the Thanksgiving tradition became an official holiday. President Abraham Lincoln, spurred by journalist Sara Josepha Hale, declared the last Thursday of November a national day of Thanksgiving. You’ll recall Lincoln’s situation was less than ideal: the future of a United States was in serious question, the carnage of thousands of young men at Fredericksburg, Antietam, and Gettysburg was fresh on his mind as he called for all Americans to pause and give thanks for, “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
Instead of skipping Thanksgiving, perhaps we would do well to draw on the spirit of Thanksgiving past, pulling up a place and a time where not so long ago, amidst trying circumstances, people propped their chairs back, talked and listened to one another, reflected on life, and thanked God for it.
Editor’s note: Life Matters is written by David B.Whitlock, Ph.D. David’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his website is DavidBWhitlock.com.