The lost holiday

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a holiday that gets lost in American culture, I think. Nestled between Halloween and Christmas, the stores rarely put out Thanksgiving decorations anymore. They just have sales on food.

I remember as a child when Thanksgiving came around, stores would have images of turkeys and pilgrims to remind people that it was Thanksgiving time. Now, it seems we skip straight from the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween to Santa and the reindeer. Maybe there was no room for the turkey and the pilgrims in the world of secular icons?

Or maybe it’s just because, as a culture, Americans are so fat and happy all the time that a day devoted solely to eating and watching football isn’t that unusual anymore. If that’s the case, it’s ironic. Because Americans are fat and happy and they’re the one people group in the world that spend millions of dollars to lose weight and even more on medication to avoid being depressed.

Now, I’m not saying I’m against eating. Good grief, no. Personally, I’m supposed to stay away from sugar and grains. But let me tell you, I intend to eat my share (or more than my share) of pumpkin pie and stuffing tomorrow. I’ll probably go right to sleep, but I’m going to do it because Thanksgiving only comes once a year. … and I really really love pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, but I think Americans have forgotten what it is that we’re celebrating. It’s not exactly a cut-and-dry type of holiday, after all. It’s a little unusual. And if you don’t know anything about history, it’s easy to get your focus off, especially with the consumerism in the American market now.

What do we celebrate on Thanksgiving? Do we celebrate that the pilgrims came over on the Mayflower and made friends with the “Indians” and learned how to make succotash? Do we celebrate that people play football? Do we celebrate that it’s autumn? Do we celebrate that Christmas is coming?

I think Thanksgiving is easy to forget in America because we have so much all the time, it’s hard to be thankful. Thanksgiving is being thankful. But after you spend all day, sometimes a day and a half, preparing food, it’s difficult to be thankful for it. You just want to eat it. Or after you’ve worked and worked and worked for eleven months, it’s easy to just want to take a day off and rest.

But that’s where I think we lose the holiday. It gets lost because we’re not thankful. Our focus is wrong.

If you’ve never been out of the country, you really have no context to understand how blessed America is. We are a blessed people. Blessed beyond belief or imagination.

2011 has been a difficult year. Actually, the U.S. has had a run of difficult years. We call them difficult years, but are they really difficult? Difficult means something different in the U.S. than it does in other countries. Difficult here means someone lost a job. Difficult here means a family had to move to a smaller house. Difficult here means someone has to survive on minimum wage or unemployment.

And I’m not making light of any of those situations. They’re all unfortunate. But what is difficult — truly difficult — about living in the United States?

The only thing that’s truly difficult about living in the United States is remembering to be thankful. Because even in our worst circumstances, we have more than any other country. And even if you have nothing, you have the opportunity to start something. Even if you have no one, you can meet someone. And if you’re all alone, you can ask for help. And many times, someone will help. Because this country is still the most generous, kind-hearted country in the world.

Do we realize how unusual that is? Or are we so caught up in the busyness and the excess that we just skim over it?

My heart breaks for this country because those of us with so much don’t think about those who have nothing. All I have to do is think about my dear Q’eqchi friends in Guatemala who live in homes with dirt floors and who are so happy and thankful for everything they have. I think I’m grateful for the blessings in my life, and they put me to shame.

So how can people from a country that has everything remember to be thankful? In my mind, the only way is to remember where our plenty came from. Because blessings don’t occur in a vacuum. Excess doesn’t just happen. America is blessed because the people who founded it followed God. And America is still blessed because there are many many people in it who still follow God and pray for this country.

Today’s verse is Psalm 100:4-5.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
      go into his courts with praise.
      Give thanks to him and praise his name.
 5 For the Lord is good.
      His unfailing love continues forever,
      and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

And whoever arranged this verse probably intended to focus on verse 4. After all, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. But really what stands out to me this morning is verse 5.

For the Lord is good.

His unfailing love continues forever.

And his faithfulness continues to each generation.

I’m thankful for turkey. I’m thankful for pumpkin pie. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for my friends. I’m thankful for my country. I’m thankful for my church. And I’m thankful for words to be able to express my thoughts.

But more than anything, I’m thankful to belong to God. And I’m thankful that He’s a good God and that He loves me and that no matter what I do or where I go, His love will continue forever. Even until after time is gone, He will still love me. He’s faithful and that faithfulness has been passed down through the ages, and it won’t stop either.

We have so much to be thankful for. And while Halloween is fun and Christmas is epic, we shouldn’t forget the little holiday in between. Because if we forget to be thankful, we’ll lose more than just a holiday.