Some of you may think that this is the beginning of the Christmas season. Some of you are already a month into it. But before you start jingling your bells, hold up a hot minute. This is actually the Thanksgiving season.
We have 3 weeks to prepare for — and celebrate — Thanksgiving. Christmas, a delightful holiday, begins with the first Sunday in Advent, which is December 2 this year.
Every year, Christmas gets pushed earlier and earlier. There are already people who have put up their Christmas trees.
I get it. Christmas is fun. It’s got music and movies and gifts! What’s not to love?
And I do love it. But I also love Thanksgiving. I hate to see it brushed aside, but I think I know why it is. Christmas is a mass-marketed, pre-packaged, celebration bonanza. It’s easy to celebrate. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, has one meal, a parade (capped off by Santa ?), and a football game. We just don’t know how to celebrate Thanksgiving for more than a day, and there are really only so many handprint turkeys a person can make in their lifetimes.
But the same reason Thanksgiving is so often brushed past is the reason I cherish this season — without the Christmas intrusion. Although it is woefully easy to get all Martha in your Thanksgiving Day celebrations, the act of thanksgiving is an act of rest and reflection. While you can actively express thanks, to get to the moment of gratitude, you have to pause.
Not only do you have to stop, but you have to look up from the to-do list and the calendar. You have to look at the people in your life. You have to reflect on your circumstances. You have to examine what you’ve been through, where you’re going, who you were, and who you are. And you have to say, “This is good. Thank you.”
You really can’t do that going 90 miles an hour in 5 different directions.
For us, life is super busy from the end of August through Halloween. Then there’s a breath. It’s not a big breath, mind you, but we have an ever-so-slightly lightening of the load. And then December hits with full force, and my December calendar always makes me want to weep — and often actually does make me weep. While the Thanksgiving feast can crazy (and I’m working on that), these few sweet weeks before Thanksgiving are a gift. And I’m thankful for the gift.
Thanksgiving celebrations throughout history have almost always been tied to harvest. The hard work of gathering food is done, and we are thankful. The first* Thanksgiving in North America celebrated the harvest and the fact that they weren’t all dead. I’m sure there was a lot of reflection in that celebration. We work and create and do, but then we reflect and are grateful. And that’s what this season is for.
To aid you in your reflecting, here are some tools. There are no crafts in this list. This is a Mary list. Martha will have to wait her turn.
Here’s your guide to celebrating Thanksgiving. (There are some affiliate links here, just so Christmas doesn’t get ALL the mercenary tendencies.) You won’t find a ton of suggestions because 1. there aren’t nearly as many options as there are for Christmas and 2. filling your time with too many distractions is missing the aforementioned point.
First, you need some Thanksgiving music. Thanksgiving is an inherently religious holiday because expressing thanks assumes there’s someone to be thankful to. So these are all hymns (and an Andrew Peterson song.) If that’s not your style, there’s “Over the River and Through the Woods.” Yeah, there aren’t a lot of secular options. If you know of any, share them in the comments!
Before you pull out The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (original animated version, please) and Miracle on 34th Street, there are a few Thanksgiving shows to veg-out to. Of course, there’s the iconic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving doesn’t have Die Hard, but the 2002 Spider-Man was set at Thanksgiving. And the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Thanksgiving Episode in Season 4 is a fun take on the struggles of trying to have a perfect holiday with an imperfect family — or mortal enemies. (“It is a sham, but it’s a sham with yams. It’s a yam sham.”)
Some other viewing options
- An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (based on the book by Louisa May Alcott)
- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (sniff. John Candy.)
- Home for the Holidays (which is kind of a bummer, if I remember correctly. But I love me some Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr.)
- The always hilarious Turkey Drop episode of WKRP (“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”)
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Finally, my favorite category: Thanksgiving books. I’m only listing a few, and these are books I love dearly. There are tons of “first Thanksgiving” books. And those are great, but these are the books that make my heart happy.
- Cranberry Thanksgiving by Harry and Wende Devlin This is not only my favorite Thanksgiving book; it’s my favorite holiday picture book. And I love Christmas picture books — of which there are many beautiful and brilliant volumes.
- Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen This is the beautiful story of a little immigrant girl and her mother who learn about American Thanksgiving and teach the girl’s classmates about pilgrims. Yes, I cry every time.
- An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott (Also a movie, see above.) It’s just a wholesome, rather cheesy story. It’s Alcott. It’s Thanksgiving. It makes me happy.
These are a few ways to augment your Thanksgiving celebrations, but the best way to celebrate is simply to take the time to be thankful. Before you dive into the hustle and bustle of Christmas, take a walk through your neighborhood or a local park. Appreciate the colors and the cooler but not yet freezing weather. Marvel at the unique blue of the autumn sky. Reflect on your blessings and everything you’ve experienced, enjoyed, and survived this past year.
Christmas is coming, but for now, be thankful.
*Yes, there were other thanksgiving celebration prior to the Pilgrims. The Spanish got there first in Florida in 1565 and Texas in 1598. But in the mythology of America, the guys with the funny hats are gonna get top T-day billing.