The abundance of gaudy decorations my neighbors displayed would be considered sparse by today's standards. Decorating the day after Thanksgiving is customary, but even waiting that long seems to be going out of fashion. Black Friday dawns before sunset on Thanksgiving Day. Radio stations begin playing Christmas music on November 1st.
As the Christmas season has been extended, the season for giving thanks has been pushed aside. Who can blame retailers? Thanksgiving doesn't boast the magic of elves or the fun of dressing up to collect candy. Tucked quietly between the two largest commercial holidays of the year, a day set apart to purposefully remember our blessings seems provincial and prosaic.
How things have changed since Gorham D. Abbott penned these words in 1833:
"When first New England was planted, the settlers met with many difficulties and hardships, as is necessarily the case when a civilized people attempt to establish themselves in a wilderness-country. Being piously disposed, they sought relief from Heaven, by laying their needs and distresses before the Lord in frequent set days of fasting and prayer. Constant meditation, and discourse on the subject of their difficulties, kept their minds gloomy and discontented; and, like the children of Israel, there were many disposed even to return to that Egypt which persecution had determined them to abandon."At length, when it was proposed in the assembly to proclaim another fast, a farmer, of plain sense, rose and remarked, that the inconveniences they suffered, and concerning which they had so often wearied Heaven with their complaints, were not so great as might have been expected, and were diminishing every day as the colony strengthened; that the earth began to reward their labors, and to furnish liberally for their sustenance; that the seas and rivers were full of fish, the air sweet, the climate wholesome; above all, they were in the full enjoyment of liberty, civil and religious. He therefore thought, that reflecting and conversing on these subjects would be more comfortable, as tending to make them more contented with their situation; and that it would be more becoming the gratitude they owed to the Divine Being, if, instead of a fast, they should proclaim a thanksgiving. His advice was taken; and from that day to this, they have in every year observed circumstances of public happiness sufficient to furnish employment for a thanksgiving-day, which is therefore constantly ordered and religiously observed." (source, italics mine)
We have forgotten how to give our humble thanks.
Instead, we move from Halloween straight to Christmas, spending countless hours and untold sums of money on celebrations that shout Look at me! and Give to me!
We're so concerned about getting more that we fail to give thanks for what we already have.
Social media is brimming with posts expressing gratitude for being able to serve others (e.g., "Today I'm thankful I can cook dinner for my friend who just had a baby AND watch her twin toddlers all afternoon. #thanksgiving"). The right hand tells not only the left hand, but the entire world, what it's doing. (see Matthew 6:1-4)
A narcissistic culture is quick to call attention to and appreciate itself.
Yet there is but one source for all our blessings. "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:16-17)
Does our thanksgiving acknowledge Him? Not just the holiday, when we stuff ourselves with food and football. Does our giving of thanks demonstrate our awareness that without Him we would be utterly lost - physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
I love Christmas. The lights, the decorations, the carols, and the evening rhythm of Advent readings all bring joy to my soul. I can hardly wait to celebrate the Incarnation. What better way to usher in that season than to take time to earnestly and deliberately give Him thanks?
And as Lisa wrote so beautifully, "...may this discipline of thanksgiving mark us as God's people and may we be a grateful people whose joy extends far beyond the month of November."
Some people seem to think that if they set apart certain definite days for praise, it is enough. For example, they will be grateful for a whole day once in the year—thinking that this is the way God wants them to show their gratitude. But the annual Thanksgiving Day is not intended to gather into itself the thanksgiving for a whole year; rather it is intended to give the keynote for all the year's life. Life's true concert pitch, is praise. If we find that we are below the right pitch, we should take advantage of particular thanksgiving seasons to get keyed up. That is the way people do with their pianos—they have them tuned now and then, when the strings get slack and the music begins to grow discordant—and it is quite as important to keep our life in tune as our piano. - J.R. Miller (source)