The Thanksgiving Holiday is always a huge deal across the Atlantic, where my sister and the American part of my family lives.
For most Americans, Thanksgiving is a rare day off from work, filled with parades and shopping sales and lots of delicious American foodie favourites like roast turkey and cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and baked sweet potato topped with marshmallows, cornbread, yams, pecan pie, and many other things besides…
But more than anything, it’s a day to gather family, friends and loved ones together to celebrate life’s abundance and practice thankfulness for life’s many rich blessings.
And I have to admit that I always feel a little jealous of my American family and friends during the Thanksgiving holiday period.
And yes, we Brit’s get more annual bank holidays but we don’t have a thanksgiving for the founding of our nation, and the many freedoms and liberties and blessings we enjoy And I think it’s such a lovely idea, that I almost want to adopt it as a ritual of my own, here in the UK too!
But at the same time, I am reminded that we shouldn’t actually need a national holiday in order to remember to practice gratitude for our many blessings in life. We should give thanks ‘for everything, in all circumstances’.
But in tandem with my love of all things thanksgiving themed, I also find it kind of a sad reflection of our times that the tradition now also coincides with the rather more cynical Black Friday sales event.
And not only has this tradition travelled across the Atlantic to become a staple amongst UK retailers now too, but it’s also recently expanded to cover an entire week to ten day period!
And on the one hand, I know that it’s probably not massively surprising that retailers have monopolised on the opportunity to maximise pre-Christmas sales during the thanksgiving holiday when Americans are off work. But I also think it’s kind of a shame because to me it seems entirely at odds with the whole concept of Thanksgiving. And how that balance has tipped too, because whilst there’s only one day marked for practicing thankfulness if you’re American, (or none if you’re not British!) there’s a whole week focused around consumption.
And is it just me, or have we lost something important here? Because essentially, what was created as a holiday of gratitude and thanksgiving for our plenty, has been hijacked by a marketing tour de force, synonymous with insatiable appetite for buying more stuff.
And I’m not saying that Black Friday is inherently bad either. I mean, if you do manage to grab yourself some bargains and save a few pounds on your Christmas shopping list this year, well who’s to complain about some retail sales? I guess it’s just the juxtaposition of the two that bothers me so much, and the way that the second has hijacked the former.
But beyond the fact that many of the so-called ‘price cuts’ are actually just price hikes, followed by price slashes, dressed up to look like savings, the biggest issue I have remains the underlining focus shift, away from a heart position of gratitude for what we have already been blessed with, to one of wanting more.
It’s really hard to practice moderation when you’re constantly surrounded by excess, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the simple practice of gratitude and thankfulness is the only real answer to an economic system that’s so invested in making us feel like we are lacking, simply in order to make us consume more – and not just over the thanksgiving holiday either.
I recently read that here in the UK pre-Christmas household debt figures last November peaked at an incredible £1.5 trillion, fuelled at least in part by Black Friday promotions and people taking on extra credit card debt to buy stuff they can’t really afford and don’t really need for Christmas.
I know that lots of people find the Bible kind of old-fashioned these days, but I was always raised reading it, and it still holds a lot of wisdom and truth for me.
And as I began writing this I was reminded of this old Biblical proverb from Ecclesiastes 6: 9 which simply says this:
‘Enjoy what you have rather than always desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless; like chasing the wind.’
I love this verse because, for me, it cuts right to the heart of the issue. Do I enjoy what I already have in life and practice thankfulness and gratitude for it, or do I waste too much of my time and mental energy, lusting after and working towards gaining what I don’t have instead?
And if I’m honest, I find it a constant challenge for me to get the balance right in my life.
I mean how many hours do my husband and I need to work to make enough money to sustain our chosen lifestyle? And how much money do we really need to amass to be comfortable as a family?
How nice a car? How big a house? How many trips, holidays, and nice meals out do we need to be happy?
How many nice things do we really want to own, and at what expense to our own health and wellbeing? And is any of it ever really more important than just being with our three year old son?
The truth is that there will always be more to lust after in this world.
But also, I already have more than enough… more than I could ever possibly need.
So we’re choosing to cut back a bit this Christmas, my family and I. My husband and I are setting maximum budgets for gifts for each other, and my extended family have all agreed that we’ll only buy gifts for the kids this year. This Christmas we’re going to invest more of our money in spending time together and making memories instead.
And to me, this feels like a good decision, because it’s more aligned to the way I want to live. Aside from all the environmental and social benefits of consuming less and buying more consciously, this decision helps to grow the kind of values I want to build my live around; giving over consuming; gratitude over desire, and time with people over just things.
So have a happy thanksgiving y’all!