Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving in the Season of Christmas

I met with a friend who is also in ministry and learned that we share a love for the Christmas season.  For those of you that don’t know our routine, each year our family puts up two Christmas trees—an artificial tree with white lights and crystal ornaments that is upstairs in the living room, and a live tree with colored lights and multi-colored ornaments downstairs in the den.  The live tree goes up as soon after Thanksgiving as our favorite tree vendor starts selling them—we are usually one of the first ones on the lot—and by the time we take it down on New Years it is a dry stick of kindling, no matter how much we water it.  The artificial tree goes up around Halloween, and stays up at least until Valentines Day, and sometimes longer.
My friend follows a similar yet different schedule.  His tree goes up as soon as the World Series is over.  Then he and his wife put up a few more around the house, and by Thanksgiving they put six small trees outside, and one on the deck.  After New Year’s Day the trees are put away, except for one four-foot tree which replaces the main tree in the living room by the fireplace.  The decorations for that get changed from month to month, cumulating in April after baseball season starts, when it is decorated with Orioles stuff.
He says that in his house there are two seasons: Christmas season and baseball season.
I’ll come back to him.
I was in a grocery store in late October and there was a section of shelves dedicated to holiday decorations, and I was struck by the fact that there were Halloween decorations, and next to them were Christmas decorations.  I would have thought that maybe there would have been Thanksgiving decorations in between, but no—it was Halloween, then Christmas.
Used to be that Thanksgiving was seen as its own holiday, but then it was like Thanksgiving just became the official kickoff to the Christmas season.  Eat some turkey, and get ready for Black Friday.  Now the Christmas season gets kicked off right after Halloween—or maybe right after the World Series—and then we just blow right through Thanksgiving.  Pam and I were at the mall last weekend, and Santa was already bouncing kids on his knee.  Oh, and we were at the mall to do some Christmas shopping.  The official launch of Water For Christmas was more than a week ago.  The Creative Arts Team has already been working on Christmas decorations for the church, and their work begins in earnest this week, as next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent.
Thanksgiving has become just a momentary blip in the Christmas season.
This is more an observation about our society than one about the church, because Thanksgiving has never really been a religious holiday; it has never been a part of the Christian calendar.  (This season before Advent is called Kingdomtide and actually begins at the end of the Pentecost season in late May.)  The origins of Thanksgiving are as a harvest festival, and was observed at various times until President Lincoln declared it a national holiday and unified its observance.  So it’s not an official church or Christian holiday.
But still.
Back to my friend.  We get together regularly to talk about our spiritual lives and challenge and encourage one another in our walk with Christ.  His focus lately is in wanting to be more thankful about everything, and so beginning fifty days before Thanksgiving he has made a concerted effort to be aware of things in his life for which he needs to be thankful.  In the evening he reflects  on his day and writes in a journal about the things he is thankful for in that day.
So, while on the outside it may appear that he goes straight from baseball season to the Christmas season, in reality he is consciously working to develop a real spirit of thanksgiving in his soul. 
And that is more than just a blip in the Christmas season.
Rather than seeing Thanksgiving as a kickoff to Christmas or just a momentary interruption in the preparation for Christmas, maybe we ought to view the Christmas season as an opportunity to develop a spirit of thanksgiving in our souls.  To reflect on the people, the events, and the circumstances that are in our lives for which we can be thankful.  To learn to be content with who we are, with who others are, with where we are in life, and with what we have.  To be less materialistic and more aware that, unlike a lot of people in our world, we don’t have to worry about literally surviving another week or even another day.  And that we can do something for those who do.

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