Are We Too Enlightened for Thanksgiving?

Last week, William Newton wrote about being thankful, and pondered who people are thankful to when we sit at the table every year for turkey and the trimmings. It got me thinking about Thanksgiving in general, and how we are approaching it in our culture today:

With the upcoming American celebration of Thanksgiving, marked by the store window display I spotted, the notion of being thankful begs the question, “Thankful to whom?” A cold and meaningless universe, where the existence of life is but a fluke? A senseless commingling of chemical bonds with no purpose? A bunch of dead, fundamentalist Protestants who got kicked out of England centuries ago, like everyone else who didn’t conform? The Pillsbury Dough Boy?

Well, okay, we can be thankful to him for crescent rolls at Thanksgiving, but you see my point. In perceiving that there are lovely, good things around you, part of the gift of life you have been given, you quickly come to realize that you are overwhelmed on a daily basis with blessings for which to be thankful. In doing so, you come to realize the complete dependence of the created upon the Creator, for every moment life continues, even in its most difficult passages.

Every year, we seem to see Christmas decorations and gift-giving guides come out earlier and earlier. I’ve written about trying to keep Advent in a world that skips the ancient tradition of keeping watch for the Babe in the Manger, and keep a page dedicated to the Jesse Tree tradition that our family uses to keep us focused on the fact that it’s not Christmas yet. We fight the urge to dive into Christmas before the actual season, as well as the tendency to forget that it’s still Christmas for a minimum of 12 days.

Long have we seen Christmas decorations come out at the same time as Halloween at big stores like Sam’s and Costco’s, where local businesses shop for their own decorations that normally go up right after Thanksgiving. But this year I’ve started to see a trend that is even worse: stores are skipping Thanksgiving almost altogether to rush into Christmas.

I needed a couple of small pieces for my daughter’s Halloween costume and went out on October 31 to pick them up. What was left of the Halloween stuff was crammed into an aisle-and-a-half, and in the other aisles dedicated to the current season’s shopping was not loads of harvest and Thanksgiving and turkey-themed plates and storage and tablecloths, but Christmas gift sets. The Thanksgiving merchandise is relegated to one aisle box and one aisle in housewares.

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Not only have we seemed to have forgotten Who we’re supposed to thank for our bounty, our society seems to forget that we need to be thankful at all.

Now there is no pause between the decadence Halloween has become (with everyone trick-or-treating and getting costumes and candy) and the decadence that Christmas has become (with demand for bigger and more expensive gifts for all). There is no place for stopping to give thanks.

And sometimes I wonder if this is just one more symptom of our post-Christian culture. Because, indeed, where do those thanks go? Who has time to stop and thank God for what we have? We deserve it, after all. That’s what we’re told day in, day out. You deserve a new TV. You deserve a new car. You deserve a spa day. You deserve those tickets to the football game. You deserve a new computer for school. The new iPhone. The new kitchen.

I’m distressed that humility and gratefulness are being thrown out the window for selfishness and greed. It reminds me of the Enlightenment period, where many philosophers decided that they were far too intelligent, much too enlightened, to have anything to do with that silly religion nonsense. They’d outgrown the “need” for God, you see, like they’d outgrown the need for the toys they’d played with as a child. And I see so much of that in our society today.

That people pass laws that make it illegal to feed the homeless. That people would turn away from homeless children because they’re not filling out proper paperwork before they come here after their parents send them away. We see memes like this one, which imply that only American children should be fed, and to hell with those dirty kids overseas.

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Is this what America is going to become? Are we a greedy, selfish nation without gratitude for the abundant blessings in our lives?

Or are we a thankful people, who look to the One Who gives us everything with love and appreciation for our many, many gifts?

I pray we still have a use for Thanksgiving in America, and that we never feel as if we’ve outgrown the need for giving thanks to the God Who loves us and created each and every one of us.

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