It was just friendly chitchat from a grocery store clerk, but it caught me by surprise. The aisles were packed with people shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, just as I was. But in our consumerist culture, Thanksgiving Day has become Black Friday Eve. In fact, if you count Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving is just the prelude to a very long weekend of shopping.
Does that bother you? Thanksgiving, which is supposed to be a day about being grateful for all you have, has become a time to make your shopping list and check it twice, because everyone you know (yourself included) needs even more.
Apparently, the true meaning of the holidays in America isn't family, or peace on earth, or the light of goodness and joy shining in spite of the darkness of human woes.
It's about a bunch of new stuff. Even children are encouraged to expect that Santa will bring them all the stuff they want.
I'm not immune to this. It's not just "those people" who commercialize Christmas, it's me too. When I start planning for Christmas, this is what I think about, generally in this order:
Gifts (making a list, shopping, wrapping, shipping),
Food (for gift-giving, for get-togethers, and how to keep myself from eating too much of it),
Décor (a list of what I "need" to buy for the house, for the tree, for the table), and
Music (usually lots of choir practices and performances).
Eventually, I also think about
Giving to people who actually have needs, instead of to those who already have plenty.
And, oh yeah, can't forget
Jesus, whose birth we're celebrating.
Finally, and continually,
Money (how we'll afford all of it, and how long it will take to pay off the Visa bill).
I do love spending time with my family, so I also think about special activities and outings we can share together, such as movie nights with favorite Christmas films, Christmas stories to read aloud, an evening of board games, attendance at a special concert or play, driving around looking at light displays, and the carol service at church on Christmas Eve.
Interestingly, more than almost any physical gift, it is these shared activities that my now-grown kids remember most through the years.
They still like to do those things with us. It's those fun times together, along with a few other non-material things, that create Christmas joy for all of us.
Yes, it's Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas," and Mannheim Steamroller, and Handel's Messiah, and sets of keys shaken while caroling "Jingle Bells" that sound like Christmas.
It's the scents of fir and pine, wood smoke and rain-fresh air, and cinnamon, cloves, and pumpkin pie that smell like Christmas.
It's the twinkling lights on houses and trees, glowing candles, and the pair of choirboy angels my mom bought the year I was born that look like Christmas to us.
My kids fondly remember the year we didn't spend money on gifts but took a trip to Mendocino, on California's north coast, instead. They never forget the ice cream shop on Main Street that opened on Christmas morning and gave free scoops to all who stopped by.
They remember aunts and uncles and cousins we may not see often but with whom we've had happy times. They remember (with laughter) the extremely bad jokes my father always told, and we all miss him now that he has passed away. They remember Christmas Eves when we slept amid blankets on the living room floor with the tree lights on all night. We look at photo albums, those relics of the 20th century, and remember the way we were.
Gifts? Do we remember any gifts? Very few. I remember a doll I got one year when I was about nine. Another time I got my very own sewing basket, just like Mama's. My kids remember getting their bikes and their own CD players. Otherwise we remember nothing specific, though much money and time and energy was expended.
What would happen if we focused less on what comes from a store and more on all the sights, sounds, scents, and shared activities that we actually remember so fondly and in such detail?
Giving gifts is only one of the love languages. Why don't we consciously, deliberately focus on the other possibilities:
Physical touch (hugs, kisses, hand holding, pats, fist bumps, neck rubs, etc.)
Acts of service (kindness, thoughtfulness, doing chores for another, dropping grudges, forgiving, compromising, etc.)
Words of affirmation (sincere compliments, saying "I love you" and "thank you," giving encouragement, speaking positively instead of complaining, etc.)
Quality time (focused and uninterrupted attention, listening, trying to understand the other's point of view, shared activities, etc.)
Am I ready for Black Friday? You bet.
I'm going to listen to Christmas music all day, cook breakfast with my husband, and write a letter to my elderly uncle who doesn't do email. I'll put out my choir boy angels and hang a Christmas wreath. I'll entertain my grandson while my pregnant daughter has a rest, and call a friend who recently had back surgery. In the evening, grateful for Thanksgiving leftovers, my husband and I will pop in a video, perhaps The Muppet Christmas Carol. It has lots of humor, some great songs, and Michael Caine is Scrooge. Bless us, every one!