Since I was a young child, Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday for me. Not because of the turkey dinner with all the fixings at my aunt’s and uncle’s house. That was boring. Wearing our fancy clothing, we sat stiffly in the tiny living room, pretending to enjoy each others’ company, while my dad and aunt got into heated political arguments in the kitchen. If I was lucky, I could sneak off downstairs with the boys and play with my uncle’s huge electric train set. He worked for the railroad his whole life and had quite a train hobby as well.
The real attraction of Thanksgiving came earlier in the day. My dad would wake me up, and I would get dressed in warm clothes and winter boots, and then we would head to the Nelsons’ house for a hike in the woods. When I was young, it was a long hike, probably several miles through the as-yet-undeveloped border of St. Paul and Woodbury. It was an eclectic bunch of people who knew the Nelsons from somewhere. Everyone brought their dogs; parents pulled their children on sleds, and there was a cacophony of laughing, barking, and interesting conversation. We always searched for bittersweet for mom. After the hike, we would all go inside and enjoy snacks and hot cider. Then we would go home and nap until it was time for the dinner.
As I got older, and the neighborhoods started to be developed, the hikes got shorter and the wine and cheese time afterward got longer. After I married Jim, and we had children of our own, we carried on the noble tradition of the Thanksgiving hike at the Nelsons, pulling our own children on sleds until they grew enough to walk with us.
Nowadays my family is the host of the Thanksgiving “hike” and the dinner. We rent the building at a local park, which is a large house with a kitchen and huge living room.
People walk over in the morning for coffee and cider and conversation, and then we all have a big potluck dinner in the afternoon. We send out word to everyone we know that they are welcome for any part of the day’s festivities, and we usually have a good number of non-relatives in the mix. It is always a good time, and we are grateful.
Thanksgiving has traditionally marked the beginning of the Christmas season, every year it was my mother’s cue to put up the tree and decorations. It was a magical time for me, and I would spend hours curled up on the couch by the tree, listening to the music of the season.
Times have changed. In the 21st century, some people get offended by the mentioning of Christmas, and it is safer to call it the holiday season. And in reality this time of year, near the shortest, darkest day of the year, is a time for celebration in many religions and cultures. Christianity incorporated the pagan holiday of Yule into Christmas and changed the date by a few days. Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are also celebrated during this season, which sadly has come to be more about shopping than about the holidays themselves.
And really, do those of us who are Christian want the birth of Jesus to be associated with Black Friday stampedes, raging consumerism, and the corporate greed that drives businesses to force their employees to miss Thanksgiving with the relatives because now they have to be open on the holiday itself?
Back when my husband and I were first married, we ventured out to the mall on Black Friday. We were in a clothing store when he lost sight of me. I had been bowled over and was under a clothes rack. I had warned him that a person really needed to wear football shoulder pads to shop on that day, and at that point, he believed me. I’ve only shopped on one Black Friday since then, and it was for something that was a great deal on something we needed.
Today is the first day of Advent, the time of the Christian church year leading up to the birth of Jesus. Maybe instead of worshiping at the altar of consumerism, we can decorate our homes, listen to Christmas music, read the Bible stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, and meditate on what it means to us that God came to us as a human baby. A baby who grew up to be a prophet who preached love of God and love of neighbor as oneself.
What are your ideas for how we can follow Jesus’ example and teachings during this season of greed? How can we show more love during this busy season? Whatever your beliefs, I welcome your comments.