By: Alistair Brown
I like a national Thanksgiving Day. Maybe some Americans don’t pause to think much about how good that is, but a newcomer from the UK like me doubly appreciates it.
There’s really no equivalent in Britain.* Churches may have Harvest Thanksgiving services on a Sunday when people can bring food as tokens of the harvest, and usually the tins and produce are given away afterwards to a homeless charity. But there’s no single date for that, and no national adoption of the event. Certainly no vacation time!
I wonder how many today take time to consider the experience of the Pilgrims and their simple gratitude for their first harvest in their new world. They weren’t giving thanks for luxuries, just that they had food to eat and life to live.
I’m not the one to explore how that early experience has evolved through nearly 400 years. What I see today, what I hear talked about more than anything else, is food and family. And what is going to be bought on Black Friday.
The food part is understandable, and has a real link to the original times of Thanksgiving. Excessive eating and drinking gets a less-than-desirable emphasis, but most of us aren’t qualified to sit in judgment on others. We don’t look too malnourished.
The instinct to be with family is also a good thing. It’s harder than ever to do, with families strung out round the nation and even the world. A lot of airline and road miles are covered around Thanksgiving, with technology compensating with good communication options for those who can’t travel. My thoughts go out to those who have lost loved ones, and Thanksgiving is one of the heart-rending reminders of separation.
Oddly I don’t feel much condemnation for those who go crazy with shopping the next day. I don’t feel like joining them, but if it’s what they want to do then let them do it. My suspicion is that most of what they buy would have been bought anyway, and who is there who can say they haven’t taken advantage of a bargain, needed or not, when it was right before their eyes?
Somewhere inside I worry a little in case Thanksgiving just becomes a jumping off point for a larger than ever retail event. It isn’t controversial to say Christmas has been surrounded by commercialism, and plenty of Christians have urged that we rescue the real meaning of Christ’s coming to earth. The same could happen to Thanksgiving, and all the more now that retailers aren’t concentrating special deals just on the Friday of that week but over the whole Thanksgiving week.
To pause and give thanks is good for us. First, it reminds us that we do have many blessings. Often the one or two things that trouble us dominate our thinking, and we don’t notice how many positives are in our lives. When we lose them – like people, like good health, like a job – we realize we took them for granted. Second, we’re encouraged to speak out our thanks. Most often that’s telling family that we love them, words often not spoken enough or at the right time. Third, giving thanks always points us beyond what we have to the source of all good things, to God himself. We thank him for daily bread, for family and friends, for health and opportunity, and for ways in which we can make our lives a blessing to others.
This hasn’t been an easy year for my wife, Alison, who had a serious back injury in May. She’s been in the hospital twice, had a major operation, and continues to fight to regain something like normal movement and freedom from serious pain. Never, though, have we felt anything other than blessed and strengthened by God. Sure, there have been dark moments and fears, but we’ve been spared the ‘God is absent’ sense some have at hard times. We are incredibly thankful this November. God is alive, with us, encouraging us, giving us hope, and providing for our needs.
Whatever your story, I hope everything about this Thanksgiving has been positive for you.
*Note: if you get confused about terms like United Kingdom and Britain being used interchangeably, be reassured that most Brits couldn’t tell you the difference between the two. Go with the flow. Just don’t equate the UK with England. So says a proud Scotsman. If you’re really desperate to understand, try this delightful, brilliant junior school web site: http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/questions/britain.html