Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reviving Thanksgiving

(News-Herald, November 22)There are plenty of signs that I am becoming an old fogey. There is plenty of new music that I feel signals, at the very least, a terrible loss of sense and good taste among the young and, at the very worst, the decline and fall of civilization as we know it. Even when I hear teenagers listening to music that sounds as good now as it did when I heard it thirty years ago, I want to accuse them of not listening to it properly.

I think My Space looks like a programmer ate too much fruit cake, drank too much punch, and threw up into a neon piƱata. I don’t get the appeal of tattoos. I think pants should ride high enough to cover underwear (which in turn should be made out of something more substantial than colorful dental floss).

But while I may well be in a well-advanced state of fogeydon, I don’t think my feelings about The Holiday Season are fogey-related. I think the advanced decay and general ugly mess are real.

A Martian arriving in the US with no prior study might well conclude that The Holiday Season begins in October when Vampires, Licensed Action Heroes and Sexy Nurses travel door to door announcing the imminent arrival of the Baby Jesus, ushered into the area by Santa, who eats a last enormous meal in November to fortify himself for a month-long orgy of shopping in an attempt to mark the arrival of the baby by building a mountain of merchandise visible from space (the Baby Jesus Himself is needed only for a brief cameo).

Our celebration of these holidays is seriously out of whack. Yes, I know people have been complaining about this forever. But really. You’re reading this only because you managed to find a newspaper buried in the fifty pounds of advertising delivered to your door. And God bless the News-Derrick for organizing a campaign to collect and distribute food for Thanksgiving, because in most US media we have finally reached the point where more coverage is devoted to Friday’s shopping than the barely-recalled holiday on Thursday.

Black Friday used to be the day after Thanksgiving. Now it seems to be the main event; Thanksgiving is just the day that comes before it.

I do believe there’s an upside to this, however.

For a long, long time, Thanksgiving was an almost reflexive holiday, a set of traditions that anyone could observe without employing a single brain cell. One could go through the motions of Thanksgiving without a moment’s thought, appearing thankful without ever once considering what that meant.

Fifty years ago, going with the Thanksgiving flow meant sitting and talking and playing with the family long into the evening; now it means saying goodbyes early so that you can squeeze in some sleep before trying to beat the 3 AM rush at the outlet mall. These days, celebrating Thanksgiving requires a deliberate choice, a purposeful decision to observe what you believe the holiday asks of us.

We could do the lazy person’s version of the holiday and feel like we were living up to the spirit. But now in order to celebrate the spirit of the day, we have to make an effort to swim upstream, and that’s probably good.

Thanks and gratitude ought to be thoughtful. We need to think—really think—about what we have to be grateful for.

It is far too easy to take the blessings that we enjoy for granted. Worse yet, it is easy to take them as deserved, to imagine that the good things we enjoy are only what we’re entitled to.

There is nothing that shows less gratitude than to look at the friends or family or community or Creator who gives us a series of awesome gifts and say simply, “Well, of course, you’re giving me this. You should. And by the way, couldn’t you have put it in a nicer wrapper.”

We are among the wealthiest, healthiest, safest, most comfortable people who have ever lived on Earth. There is not a one of us who does not have something to be grateful for.

So I think the screwed up mess that our holiday has become is an opportunity for us to choose gratitude, to stop and deliberately take stock and mark, in whatever way suits us best, those things and people and circumstances and blessings in life that we enjoy. If we can plan a shopping trip and search out bargains, we can certainly plan a moment to search out our own grateful hearts. There has to be more to this season than simply trying to Get Stuff, and it has to be good for each of us to figure out what that something more is.

Further note:
See, here's the thing about writing a weekly column while living the rest of your life. Sometimes I can't quite get it to where I want it by deadline, and this was a particularly frustrating example. Busy week plus minor headlock kept me from tagging the point I ultimately wanted to make, which is this

If your holiday season is a horrible mess of consumerism lacking the true spirit of the occasion, it's your own damn fault, and you should do something about it.

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