When you think of Thanksgiving, what images immediately jump to mind? Turkey and all the fixings...green bean casserole...freshly baked bread or rolls...pumpkin and minced pie...family and friends. Perhaps some of you, like my family, get up in the morning to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and later will watch some football. Prior to becoming a guest of the federal government, I spent 18 Thanksgivings at St. Anthony's Dining Room remembering all I have for which to be thankful. (maybe a little triumphal?) Thanksgiving evokes feelings of warmth and a moment to stop and take stock of all we have been given. I used to say it was the one holiday corporate America...capitalist America...craven America could not commercialize. I might be wrong.
Recently, some of the biggest stores in the nation have announced they will be opening their doors as early as 8pm on Thanksgiving. Ostensibly, their motivation is to provide you with more opportunities to take advantage of Black Friday specials and sales before Friday. They want you to add to your pallet of warm Thanksgiving images, the especially compelling and touching images of people in lines, pushing and shoving, scrambling for the door-buster items before they are gone. Their new Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving has mom, dad or maybe older son and daughter wolfing down the turkey...stuffing down the stuffing...cramming the pie into their pie holes and running out the door in the afternoon, before family has even arrived yet, to get to work in time to serve all the customers on Thanksgiving night. They want Thanksgiving's Kodak moment to be grandma and grandpa using a shopping cart as a walker up and down crowded aisles...mom and dad with children trailing behind them their eyes dancing with delight at the overfilled shelves...kids looking forward to how fast they can eat and get out of the house for the first toys of the holidays. Oh, and this is being done in your name to enable you to get blockbuster value and to save, Save, SAVE. This is being done because you have demanded all these stores be open on Thanksgiving because you can't pass up a good deal. It's being done because Toys 'R Us tried it, didn't get ridden out of town on a rail, made some extra profit and now our culture demands everyone has to try it.
In stories about this trend, I saw a quote in which the person said," ...hey, we are all looking for something to do after 8 o'clock on Thanksgiving and what's better than shopping and getting a head start on the holidays?" What's better? You have to ask? Recently, Pope Francis I gave an interview in which he talked about balance. He called on the Church to return to its roots and reject the dominant culture's influence which places so much emphasis on profit, money, consuming and using. He reminded Catholics about how true happiness and satisfaction is not found in a flat screen TV marked down 50%...not found with the latest smart phone or tablet...not found in closets full of stuff ignored the day the holidays end (you already know this is true. A full life is one filled with so much more than a huggable Elmo)
The ability to give thanks requires humility. This is a quality I lacked for a long time. I had earned everything I had. My job was cool and my wife smart and accomplished. My home was desirable and my children wonderful and healthy. We had cars and computers and enough to eat and wear. It was all due to me. It was all taken for granted and it wasn't enough. I pushed management for raises to show I was just as good as any other talent at the station not because I needed the money, but for ego. I was always looking for more and bigger opportunities. I was a product of my culture and I bought it all hook, line and sinker. I paid lip service at Thanksgiving, working away from my family, but in the back of my mind I knew I deserved all I had worked for. Where I am today is a direct result of that lack of humility and the inability to be able to say thanks.
I'm not alone. When stores are opening on Thanksgiving...requiring employees to abandon their families on Thanksgiving...covering the air waves with ads about all the stuff you can buy on Thanksgiving...opening earlier and earlier (soon they will offer to feed you Thanksgiving dinner at the store so you can eat and shop without losing a minute and they will be considered innovators) When we aren't outraged or offended by this attempt to commercialize something as pure as giving thanks, the Pope is right. We are out of balance.
I realize lots of people have to work on Thanksgiving. I worked 18 straight Thanksgivings. Police and fire and doctors and nurses and so many others have to work and they deserve our thanks and admiration at their dedication. However, the hope is they don't want to work. The hope is it is hard to be away from family or friends that day. As a society, we want it to be a burden to have to work on Thanksgiving...not because we want anyone to suffer or to miss a day off, but because it's a day offered to us to stop and take stock and add up all the ways we are blessed and it shouldn't be missed. We want to be a people more interested in assessing who we are and where we are and recognizing what is of true value, than clamoring for the doors to open at 8 pm so we can get the latest hot and trendy item.
We are told we are a divided nation. We are politically divided between progressives and regressives...theists and atheists...male and female.young and old...north and south...team red or team blue. We don't need to be divided over Thanksgiving. There is common ground for us all. We can all agree giving thanks is good. We acknowledge the need for humility and appreciation of those who are important in our lives. It is a good thing to spend time together telling old stories and feeling a part of something bigger than our individual egos. We can increase the quality of our lives and society by being counter-culturalists. We can refuse to participate. This trend would end the moment stores lost money or reputation. It's that simple. It's in our hands. So often we feel helpless to effect change in our lives and culture. This time we control our own destiny.
The American bishops, and all other religious leaders, should ask people to stay home, be with their families and give thanks for the richness of this nation. They could remind Americans about Matthew 25, and instead of shopping, find ways to help the least of our brothers and sisters. They should remind us of all we have to give thanks for and how lucky we are to live in this land. Now that would draw people and differentiate churches and religion from the culture at large.
The ability to give thanks involves the character to admit we have "earned" little of what we have. The ability to give thanks reminds us how lucky we are and what is important in our lives. It mandates an attitude of humility...a trait which is foreign to much of our culture.
Will you shop 'till you drop on Thanksgiving? I hope you are too full of satisfaction and reflection to have the time.