Thanksgiving is, as the name indicates, a day of giving thanks. It is a day to be thankful for what you have, what youve been given, and for many, its a day of thanks to God. One doesn’t have to believe in God to celebrate thanksgiving, but thanksgiving in its very nature involves a stance towards someone or something else. Giving thanks is also a position of appreciative accepting of what you have been given, and realizing that it is given. In some way thanksgiving involves a stance of humility on the receivers part– one which acknowledges the generosity of the gift.
Turkey Day is a popular name for thanksgiving. Its not a bad word, of course. But it focuses on something other than thanks. It focuses not on my response to what I have been given, but on what I plan to get. I like turkey. I eat turkey on thanksgiving. I get my turkey on this day so its turkey day, kind of like the day I do laundry is laundry day, and the day I get paid is payday. Turkeyday is more innocuous–but it also is neutered of the positive stance of Thanksgiving: it doesn’t require any humility, any thanks to God, or any stance of appreciation. It just indicates what it is that I am anticipating: a full belly of turkey. This is fine and good, but it does take the attention off of thanks to the other, and focuses it on my full belly.
This is a choice we have as we approach the holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or even 4th of July. We can be thankful at thanksgiving, remember the gift of Christ at Christmas, remember the sacrifice of Christ at Easter, remember the sacrifices made for our country at the 4th of July– or we can gorge ourselves with Turkey, look forward to gifts at Christmas, the bunny and chocolate eggs at Easter, and shooting off bottle rockets at the 4th. We can be selfless or selfish, focused on thanking others or focused on getting ours. This is a choice we make as we go into each holiday.
It is easy to get distracted and busy during this time of year– to focus so much on doing stuff to prepare for the holiday that we lose sight of its purpose. Advent started Sunday, and yet that is overshadowed for many of us by cyber monday, which is an extended part of our Really important Thanksgiving weekend holiday: Black Friday. We all consume. But we become consumeristic when our consuming is what gives us our purpose and goals. When consuming becomes the focus instead of giving (thanks) then we have become consumeristic.
Jean Paul Sartre is famous for thinking of the Other as a threat. The Other was a threat to my plans and goals because the Other could complicate things, hinder my plans, provide difficulties for my master plan for myself. Marcel, on the other hand, saw the Other as a gift. Anyone else is in some sense a gift of God to me. Marcel tells us to approach the Other– any Other– with expectations of faith that they are a gift. I so often to not have this stance. I am so often a Sartrian in this respect. But when we do take the stance of Marcel and expect the Other as a gift, it transforms our view of the world, and transforms us. When you look with those eyes of faith, things get much better.
We do not have power or strength to simply will these changes in our outlook– at least not usually. For me, I have to ask God to transform my heart and give me the strength and vision to be able to see with eyes of faith. We agree with Augustine: “Lord, help my unbelief” as we want what we don’t yet possess.
I hope we will spend this month of December with eyes of thanksgiving and of faith: eyes which see what comes to us as a gift, particularly those people God has put in our lives. Enjoy the turkey and all the great stuff we have to help make us thankful at this time of year! But make sure to take time to be thankful to God and Others, and to let them know what they mean to you and how they bless you.
May God have mercy on us all…