By Amy Butler
When Thanksgiving and Advent are back-to-back, per usual, there’s hardly time to clear the turkey off the table to make room for the Advent wreath before the first candle should be lit. Most years we scramble back to daily life after a family-intense gorge-fest only to be assaulted with sanctuary decorating events and Messiah sing-a-longs before the leftovers even run out.
This year we all got the gift of an extra week in between Thanksgiving and the start of Advent. I don’t know how non-church professionals feel about this unusual occurrence, but I, for one, was pretty thrilled.
With the unusual gift of a Sunday in between Thanksgiving and the start of Advent, I’ve had some extra time to reflect a bit on the whole Thanksgiving experience. What struck me this year is the ironic truth that sometimes it’s hard to be thankful for Thanksgiving.
While Norman Rockwell painted a lovely Thanksgiving Day scene, it has been my experience that not every family’s Thanksgiving is so idyllic. With high expectations pulled up alongside friends and family at the dinner table, the hoped-for perfection is often marred by the Thanksgiving Day subtext.
It all starts out Norman Rockwell-y: Dad is about to carve the turkey and Mom is just sitting down after bringing out the last casserole dish. But there’s other stuff going on, too, and everybody knows it.
A couple of family members missed their flights and spent several frantic hours in the airport standing in long lines trying to get home; they’re frazzled, tired and short-tempered.
Your brother brought his girlfriend for the first time, and she keeps making offensive comments.
The newest baby in the family has an ear infection and his parents won’t take him out of the dining room, so no one can hear over his pained shrieks.
Mom insisted on using Grandma’s silver to set the table, which meant she stayed up most of the night polishing forks and now the stuffing tastes like silver polish.
Everybody’s trying to avert their eyes from your cousin’s new tongue piercing.
The green-bean casserole is burned on the bottom because somebody didn’t set the timer right.
That’s what I mean by subtext. Every family has one.
So why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we hang all of our thanksgiving expectations on one day a year? Sometimes living through the stress of that one big day can actually make us forget all the many things in our lives that indisputably merit expressions of thanks to God.
Thanksgiving Day isn’t destined for retirement, of course, but I got to thinking, what would happen if we did everything we could to make Thanksgiving Day less special?
What would happen if we didn’t wait for that one big day every year and instead made a regular practice of gathering together with people we love, going around the table sharing what we’re thankful for and eating green-bean casserole?
After all, the subtext that’s there on Thanksgiving is there the rest of the year, too. It might do us some good to temper it with a regular dose of thankfulness, just to keep everything in perspective.
Some might say that they can only handle such an event as Thanksgiving Day once a year. Any more often and somebody might get hurt.
But maybe a regular ritual of thanks-giving might be just what we need to keep us going until next year, when we’ll hopefully be so sick of green-bean casserole nobody will even care if it’s a little crispy.