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Christmas, Wait Your Turn—Celebrating Thanksgiving With a Grateful Heart

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Dear Anne,

We will have an empty seat at the table this Thanksgiving, since we lost hubby’s father in April, and losing Barney just last month leaves an empty space under the table, too. And while it’s not in the same league, my oven just broke, days before the biggest cooking marathon of the year—a more practical than emotional loss to deal with.

Holidays always highlight our losses and I know that celebrations can be difficult for some. I have a friend who hates the whole holiday season because she has lost so many loved ones and spends the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s in a blue funk. But I think she misses the opportunity to practice thankfulness during these special times, especially Thanksgiving. I know another young woman who lost both her parents in her teens but who loves the holidays precisely because her parents loved them so much. She appreciates that keeping their traditions keeps them alive in her heart. She appreciates the blessing they were to her–even though their time together was way too short. Her acceptance of life’s ups and downs, and making the most of the good that God has blessed her with, is a cornerstone of the gratefulness that the Thanksgiving holiday represents.

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But doesn’t it seem like Thanksgiving sometimes gets short shrift, with the Halloween and Christmas juggernauts squeezing turkey day like a couple of man-spreaders on the subway? The minute Halloween is over Christmas ads hit the TV and Christmas decorations appear in the stores. Pumpkin spice gets kicked to the curb by peppermint mocha. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving gets squeezed out by holiday bake-offs and Hallmark Christmas specials before you even order the turkey. People say it’s because you can’t market Thanksgiving, but I think it’s deeper than that. I think we have lost a sense of gratefulness as our culture has rushed to embrace the secular and the cynical.

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Please, put down the lights. Think of the baby reindeer!

The key to happiness is not to focus on the problems we have, but to be thankful for the ones we don’t. That point of view can almost seem counter-cultural in a world that emphasizes negativity and victimhood rather than thankfulness. Our culture asks how have you been wronged—you need to get even. You aren’t quite beautiful enough—buy this to fix it. Focus on the bad things that have happened to you—be outraged. The opposite of gratitude and thankfulness is anger and resentment. And don’t we seem to have a lot of anger in our world these days?

So bring on Thanksgiving—the blessed anticipation of Advent and the glorious chaos of Christmas preparations can wait. I’m going to savor the smell of sweet potato pie and cornbread dressing, football on the TV (fast forwarding through the Christmas ads) and the last leaves blowing around my yard. I’m going to count my blessings, thankful for those who will be around the table and thankful for those we love even if they can’t be with us, whether by loss or because of the miles between us. And as for that oven problem? I’m thankful my son is going to fry our turkey this year. (Assuming he doesn’t  set the yard on fire. You might want to ask St. Florian to intercede on our behalf!)

May God grant us a grateful heart this Thanksgiving and all through the year!

Love,

Susan

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