Ask a bunch of different people what Thanksgiving is all about and you’ll get a bunch of different answers:
DAVID (the college kid): “It’s about the turkey! And the mashed potatoes and the green bean thingy…”
GRANDMA: “No, no! It’s all about tradition. We always use the good china and make giblet stuffing—what?? You didn’t put the giblets in the stuffing?? But it’s tradition—oh, I feel faint…”
DAVID: “… and the homemade cranberry sauce and the sweet potato casserole…”
TINY TOM: “Thanksgiving is when Santa comes to the mall!”
GRANDPA: “No, dang it! It’s all about football! And one of these years Detroit is going to win!”
UNCLE MIKE (spitting adult beverage across the room): “Bahahahaha!”
AUNT CLARA: “It’s about decorating for Christmas! We put the tree up and the lights on and the elves on the shelves—.”
DAD: “It’s a vacation—five days off!”
HALEY (9th grade diva): Sigh, followed by eye roll. “Don’t you people know anything? It’s all about shopping. Black Friday starts on Thursday and runs through Saturday and then takes a break till Cyber-Monday—except for the malls open on Sunday…”
DAVID: “… and the pumpkin pie! And apple pie and pecan pie and chocolate pie—”
GRANDMA: “I still feel faint… maybe a little eggnog with a wee nip… What?? It’s tradition!”
HALEY: “… then Cyber Monday runs till April…”
TINY TOM: “It’s about Santa Claus!”
MOM: “Thanksgiving is all about family…”
In our culture today, the common mantra is that Thanksgiving is “all about family”. But it’s not. Nor is it about the hundred other things it’s morphed into: football, shopping, stuffing ourselves silly or gearing up for Christmas. It’s about one thing—giving thanks to God for all He’s blessed us with. It’s about gratitude for all those things we take for granted—things that so many people in other countries would give their right arms for: peace, safety, food, shelter, heat and hot water, free education. Here’s what I thank God for everyday: a home—warm and safe. Food to eat that we don’t have to hunt or plead for. Clean water to drink that we don’t have to walk miles to get every day. And then there’s the country we live in—the United States of America—the greatest country in the world. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s paradise compared to some of the countries I’ve lived in and visited as an ex-military brat. I thank God for our freedoms: we worship as we like, we can live or travel anywhere we choose, we can vote and have a voice in our government, and we have the right to speak freely and even to protest our government officials. And I can tell you—that doesn’t happen in a lot of countries.
It’s really eye-opening to think about how different our lives would be if we didn’t have those things.
There will always be those who have more than we have and those who have less than we have. Which we focus on will determine whether we’re grateful or bitter.
Around the holidays, it might be difficult to find anything to feel thankful for. Maybe we don’t have family or maybe ours is not exactly the flawless family we see so much of on television. Consequently, we can fall for the myth that everyone else has a “perfect” holiday and so we’re left to suffer the soul-splintering pain of what we don’t have. As a result, any feelings of gratitude are often overshadowed by the grief of loneliness or other losses—and that grief can be devastating.
But what if we took a moment to look at everything we do have? As I tell my sons and students, there are always going to be those who have more than we have and those who have less than we have. Which we focus on will determine whether we’re grateful or bitter. Whether we have a happy life or a miserable one depends on one thing: our attitude. It’s a choice.
Choose gratitude—and have a happy Thanksgiving.