Culture Challenge of the Week: When Holiday Meaning is Lost
One of the "shampoo ladies" at our neighborhood hair salon was born in the Middle East, but now proudly claims U.S. citizenship. She knows what Thanksgiving is all about, she says, because "real Americans" explained it to her. They described a holiday where we gather with our loved ones, eat a lot of turkey and give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives.
Although our Pilgrim forebears surely deserve a mention, it seems she understands the essence (if not the rich history) of the holiday. I worry, however, that many Americans have forgotten both.
It seems that for many, the focus of Thanksgiving increasingly is shifting from thankfulness to self-interest. Take Black Friday for instance. It was bad enough last year, when 11:59 p.m. Thursday was the dividing line. We'd give thanks for all of the good things we enjoyed — but only until the stroke of midnight. As the clock struck 12, the mall doors opened and too many of us succumbed to the siren song of commercialism, which lured us out the door to chase those things we always think we absolutely must have.
But now, the early-morning madness of sales and unbeatable deals the day after Thanksgiving has moved — to Thanksgiving Day itself. The frenzied materialism that lapped around the edges of our national day of thanksgiving has swept aside that flimsy barrier of midnight and come flooding in.
The result? Treasured family traditions will die in the face of "early-bird specials" and "freebies."
Toys R Us, for instance, hopes its "Great Big Goody Bag" of cheap trinkets, offered free to the first shoppers on Thanksgiving Day, will entice shoppers to gorge on "stuff" instead of feasting on stuffing. And what of the lowly Target employee who hoped to enjoy Grandma's luscious apple pie? With a gulp and a swallow, he or she can wolf it all down and still show up to earn time-and-a-half on Thanksgiving night. (Management, after all, appreciates its employees' "flexibility.")
Family, it seems, it less important than ringing up sales or saving a few bucks.
But what if that's what people want? One store manager brightly noted, "You can have your dinner, then come to our store. We all know that everybody gets burned out on turkey and football."
Is that really our national focus? Are we so self-centered that Thanksgiving truly has become a solo event where we gobble turkey, football, and (now) "stuff" on sale? And beat it out the door as soon as we're full?
I don't think so.
But I do think we need to be proactive, lest the peddlers of secularism sell us on the idea that every holiday is just another excuse for a sale, and more families find meaning in more stuff and less God, in more "take" and less "give."
How to save your family: Savor priceless relationships
Holidays are meant to have meaning — meaning that will nurture our souls and our families if we embrace them in the right spirit.
Let's relish Thanksgiving for what it's meant to be: a day of giving thanks.
Pause a moment and pray, first, to thank the Lord for his blessings. But second, to renew our own commitment to honor him in all we do and to live in gratitude for the freedoms and love that sustain us. Take the pledge to continue the good fight in the days ahead, even as we count our blessings of today.
Focus on the good in life and cherish your time with loved ones. (Don't miss moments that can never be recaptured — even the best sale or overtime wages aren't worth it.) Sure it's a day for food and football. But it's also a time for relationships more than anything else.
So even as you gather around the big screen to watch the games, take time for others. Enjoy your "football fix" with a family flag football game or tossing a ball with a little one.
Make this Thanksgiving your best yet — spending time on priceless relationships beats Black Friday "deals" every time.
• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.