The holidays force us to make time to be grateful, to connect with family, and to engage in conversation around a plentiful table. We cook together, clean together, travel together in close proximity; we sleep on the floor so that the older ones can take the beds. We make room for the cat, for the dog, and we snuggle on couches with hot tea while watching TV. There is stillness and simplicity in breathing the same air as our mothers and fathers and grandparents. There is a calm that accompanies the repetition of time-tested tradition. There is a warmth that memories of the past bring to our hearts, and there is a sweetness in the expectation of happy holidays to come. Varying in type and degree across all kinds of families, our special holiday rituals give us that deliciously satisfying sense of closeness, presence, and warmth that pave the way to the New Year.
Sometimes all the truth and beauty of the holidays can be overlooked by everything leading up to it. Let's start with the first holiday of the season, Thanksgiving. In recent years—or perhaps it's been happening for ages—I've noticed that Thanksgiving has lost some of its closeness, presence, and warmth. Thanksgiving has gradually become a time for Christmas decorations and shopping. Most, if not all, major department stores offer Black Friday deals. For smaller businesses, there's something called Small Business Saturday, and then every retailer has their own version of Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and so many more. Shops even open on Thanksgiving Day for Black Friday specials. Coupled into the biggest shopping weekend of the year, the sanctity of this historic day has been broken.
If you peek back into history, you will discover that the date of the holiday was moved by Roosevelt to extend the Christmas shopping season by one week. How can we find meaning and importance in the beginning of the holiday season if Thanksgiving weekend is actually an economic requirement?
Thanksgiving has lost its way in the American calendar. It has been stomped over and downtrodden by lines of intense, confrontational shoppers waiting to get their early-bird wristbands and buy the latest gadget or clothing item. Impatient and intolerant, we lash out at others if our expectations aren't met.
Perhaps this Season of Thankfulness is only a cover-up for our economic dependence on compulsive materialism. We want to be “thankful,” but here we are, circling laps through the self-indulgent lands of capitalism, running an inner marathon. We are too busy cultivating our outward thankfulness to realize what we are actually doing. In snapping selfies during the holiday season, our narcissism spills over in edited images of ourselves: 'Here's me being thankful!' or, 'Here's me with the 24lb turkey I cooked!' and again, 'Here's me with my family!' And of course, we must include all the appropriate ornamental hashtags: #soblessed #thankful #passthegravy #thankfulday #countyourblessings #turkeycoma.
When families get together to share in their lives, wonderful results can occur. Generations collide and meaning is made. New truths are told and memories are wrapped up in hugs, laughter, and pensive moments before the dawn of a new year. Magical moments come alive, and we suspend our disbelief without asking How? or Why? And, when that magic returns to us, we smile at the echo of our parents' voices from many decades ago: If you are quiet, and listen closely, you just might hear the bells on Santa's sleigh.
Wonderful results can only occur if we intentionally shed at least some of the superficiality of the holidays. We really should be tapping into the true meaning of the season. In order to authentically feel the simplicity, warmth, and presence of the holiday, we should ask ourselves: Why are we celebrating? What about this day (or moment) brings us joy? How can we grow, even just a little bit, from an interaction with a cousin/aunt/brother? Why are we going through such great lengths to produce a perfectly seasoned, succulent turkey? Moreover, how can we extend our harvest of thankfulness year-round, and to others in this world?
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and give thanks continuously... Because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson