A few years ago, in early September, I once saw an extensive Christmas display in a Cracker Barrel outside Chattanooga. In my experience, few things provide a proper contemplation of the rapidity of one’s mortality quite like the presentation of shabby chic holiday decor a week after Labor Day when the humidity’s making the asphalt wiggle.
Christmas is always rushing me, is what I’m saying.
In the Minton household, Christmas music only begins in earnest the day after Thanksgiving because, according to my wife’s logic, Thanksgiving needs her due, she’s earned it. For Lindsay, it isn’t just the sweet potato casserole (WITHOUT marshmallows, we aren’t monsters) and the under-the-table-belt-loosening that demand providing Thanksgiving with the widest possible berth from Jingle Bells; it is the act of mandatory gratitude accompanying said table sagging turkey dinners that must be given its proper due before the credit-soaked onslaught of consumption we all work tirelessly to keep Christ in each December (and November and October and (I guess?) now September).
Despite Thanksgiving’s rather dicey origins as a Pilgrim shaped smallpox delivery system for members of America’s first and only “nationals,” I dare say my wife might be onto something when it comes to gratitude. If you’re a long time reader of my work, a word that likely doesn’t bubble up to the fore of your mind when you think of me is “grateful”. In the past I’ve probably been a bit too brash, cynical, and unnecessarily negative when it concerns anything ranging from being a moderate Baptist (which, as far as denominational identifiers go has to be the “mid-sized economy sedan” of available identities), American, professionally religious, or a University of Tennessee football fan.
It seems for as long as I can remember that my default temperature gauge has been set somewhere just south of “mildly disappointed,” leaving even some of the most remarkable experiences of my time on Earth stuck in what feels like 2nd gear. And whenever I do try to emotionally accelerate in the face of something truly worth it (like BOGO milkshakes), you can hear my engine struggling to get up the hill.
Which is why I need Thanksgiving, even if its super racist and bloated. I need a federally mandated moment that demands my gratitude because I am so damn bad at it. I need a season that forces me to face the fact that all of this is a gift, even if I never registered for it, or wanted it, or would have designed it this way.
In a world of mostly curated Instagram pages pretending to be human persons — ones existing solely to make us cry in the shower because we’re neither “real” enough to be a mom blogger with a messy bun and a multi-million-dollar life style brand, nor successful enough to travel around the country with our pretty families giving sunflowers to homeless people who lack healthcare — is there anything we need more than something that mandates we give thanks (and mean it) to the eyes, ears, hearts and hands of the real people we live with every day?
I’ve found that to thank our jeans for not splitting, our cars for starting, our moms for calling, our kids for sleeping through the night, our house for warming, our neighbors for mowing, our churches for grieving our losses (and casseroling in spades), our jobs for covering (most of) the rent, and our hearts for beating is the spiritual practice of prophetic (and sometimes overtly political) resistance in a world, economy, nation, and contentious family dinnertime with all the out-of-town-cousins hell-bent on making us angry, dissatisfied, and cynical. Not because the world isn’t sometimes worth being angry, dissatisfied, and cynical about, but because the season just after this one (and the economic ideology running it) mandates our continual disappointment with who we are, what we own, and how much of it we own.
Christmas, rather than celebrating the sudden interruption of the extremely pernicious belief that our life can be measured by the amount we paid for the things we own, has instead become the baptism and canonization of ingratitude and discontentment. If you’re unsure about my argument, please square the fact that we are supposedly celebrating the birth of God to a woman of insecure and culturally shady circumstances, who would later die penniless and unmarried at the hands of a global superpower motivated by economic interests to quell dissent in his homeland, by (and I’m not being hyperbolic here) literally buying things made by corporations who run countries, enslave workers, and wage wars to protect their bottom lines.
Put bluntly: Christmas, as we now know it, has no use for love and gratitude that don’t express themselves in dollar amounts.
So, it is then little wonder to me that the ceaseless spread of Christmas’s shadow (whereby Black Friday now starts on Thursday, Wednesday, or even Tuesday) would occlude a middling holiday like Thanksgiving. Namely, because if our souls, GDP, and credit rating plan on rising with the tide “lifting all the best boats,” we best get to playing Deck the Halls as early as possible.
So may you, in the few waning moments before being whisked away by a Thursday afternoon nap, look around whatever room you find yourself in, celebrating with whoever you find yourself celebrating, and acknowledge, against your better judgment, that this life is a gift, and sacred, and worth it, and all you ever needed. May you experience, for maybe just a couple of seconds, that feeling Jesus once called being “born again,” where newborn wonder and amazement and radical okayness seizes your soul and tells it to sit down and stay awhile. May you hear stories of people long gone whose names you had almost forgotten, about how they lived, who they loved, and how none of us would be here without them (even if we had a hard time sitting next to them (and almost everyone else with whom we share a last name) when talk of the President bubbles up).
May you feel loved, whole, complete, and not overly full.
May your soul (and the Apple Watch shaped hole it contains) finally nap.
And may you, for perhaps the first time, give thanks…and mean every word and morsel of it.