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Please Don't Miss the Meaning of Thanksgiving Day

Updated on November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day. The holiday that comes between Halloween and Christmas. The unofficial end of Fall and the unofficial herald of Winter. The official start of the Christmas season. The day that Santa arrives at Macy’s in the big parade. The day before Black Friday. Turkey Day.

It’s not surprising that so many people miss the meaning of Thanksgiving Day. Our world rushes us past the holiday at blazing speed, pushing us into the Christmas buying frenzy. Let’s face it. Thanksgiving Day is the most overlooked of all the major holidays. Stores do not go out of their way to decorate with turkeys in pilgrim hats or cornucopias full of fake food. Thanksgiving decorations are often lost among the piles of shelving reserved for Christmas trees, wreaths, boxes, bows, and other such commercial necessities. In the mad rush for Christmas dollars and year-end profits, Thanksgiving Day is a very, very insignificant day.

For me, however, Thanksgiving Day is the most special of the holidays. It has a power that goes beyond all the others. Thanksgiving Day, unlike most of the major holidays, is not about getting something; Thanksgiving Day is about pausing to see what you still have, and for reflecting on how fortunate you are to still have it. It’s the day that you realize you’ve survived another year, and it’s the day you leave behind what you have lost and move towards whatever is in store for you. It’s the day you surrender, and it’s the day you get the strength to get up and go on again. This to me is the meaning of Thanksgiving Day: Survival, with thanks, in the midst of loss and promise.

Just think about it - by the time you reach Thanksgiving Day, you have survived eleven months of the year. Granted you still have thirty-some days to go till New Year’s Day, but Thanksgiving Day does not mark the end of the physical year. Rather, Thanksgiving Day marks a milestone in your year. You lived. You survived. No matter what life brought your way, you made it. By the grace of God you are still standing. You are still here. Many people did not get to say that. This year was their last. Not so for you. Thanksgiving Day is like the last leg of a year-long race. The end is in sight, and you are still in the race. You made it, and as the year’s finish line looms closer, just the fact that you made it should be enough to make you give thanks.

So, you survived. What about all the things that happened to you this year? What about all the losses? Thanksgiving Day is often overlooked because it reminds us of what we lost during the year. Indeed, it seems the pain of loss is magnified during Thanksgiving. Very few of us have avoided the pain of gathering together around the dinner table and noting those who are no longer there, often marked by empty chairs or other means of remembrance. Perhaps it was not people, but things we lost - homes, jobs, relationships. Thanksgiving Day is emotional. It causes us to grieve. That’s why so much fake happiness is poured into it. The world fills Thanksgiving Day with visions of things to come: food, games, parades, and of course, Christmas. The world says you can’t be unhappy on Thanksgiving Day. It’s not allowed. It could ruin Christmas! But Thanksgiving Day is exactly that - a day when we pause to reflect on our survival, with thanks, in the midst of loss and promise.

No one likes change. No one likes to feel out of control of his or her life. But life doesn’t care about how we feel. Life changes - suddenly, completely, tragically or for the better. From our human perspective, there is no rhyme or reason that we can see to help us put it all in perspective. We know that people die, but it does not make their passing easier. We know that material things come and go, but it does not make the sense of loss any better. We know that youth and health will pass away, but that does not make us embrace the aging process. We know that bad breaks and injustice are a part of life, but that does not comfort us when we are on the receiving end. Thanksgiving Day gives us a chance to pause, to reflect, and to try to make sense of our year, or at least to confess that we don’t understand it at all and look forward to a time when we will make sense of it all.

So, if this year has been hard on you, it’s OK to cry on Thanksgiving Day. It’s perfectly fine to grieve, to sit and to remember, to try to understand why it all happened and why you of all people survived when others did not. But keep in mind that you did survive, and there is a reason for it. Don’t just grieve the loss of Thanksgiving Day, prepare yourself to receive the promise of Thanksgiving Day.

Every year is a gift loaded with new possibilities, and if you’ve made it through to Thanksgiving Day, it looks fairly certain that you will get to live at least one more year. Granted, a few do not, but for most of us we have another year before us. While it is easy for us to remember the losses of the old year, it is harder for us to envision the promise of the new year. Most of us wait until New Year’s Eve, then make a few half-hearted resolutions that we break in the first thirty days of the new year. In honesty, most of our resolutions are pitiful.

We have a whole year before us, and all we want to do is lose a few pounds, or quit smoking, or start a business. While all these things are worthy goals, they are things that you can do anytime during the year. They are not worthy of being called life-changing goals, nor do they reflect the promise of the new year. In fact, such goals limit what we may be able to achieve because they are limited to what we can accomplish in our own strength right now. You don’t need a new year to start losing weight; you can do that right now. You do however, need a new year in order to fulfill your reason for surviving the last year.

You survived for a reason. You are meant to carry on. There is a point and a purpose for you being here, and in your hands is the power to do good or evil. Thanksgiving Day gives you the chance to examine your soul, to choose how you will respond to the events of the past year, to decide who you will be and what you will be. Thanksgiving Day, unlike any other, gives you a chance to change your direction, to embrace the pain and own it, and to push through it to the promise of a new tomorrow. Thanksgiving Day gives you the chance to enter the new year as a better, wiser, more compassionate person than you were. Thanksgiving Day can be the marker between the you that was, and the you that will be.

Once you realize the meaning of Thanksgiving Day, and choose to own it, you will now have another year before you to realize the promise of a really new and better you. Will there still be losses? Of course. But the you that meets the losses and challenges of the new year will be better, wiser, and more equipped to take advantage of the new opportunities before you, and to make a difference in your world and the lives of those around you. And next Thanksgiving Day, if you survive, you can do it all over again - be thankful for your survival in the midst of loss and promise.

So, what will you be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day? The original Pilgrims were thankful for survival, and they gave thanks to God in the midst of all of their losses and in the promise of a new world. Thanksgiving Day is all about thanking God for your survival, while acknowledging His role in bringing you through your losses while leading you to His promises and His purpose for your life. However, the decision is yours. You can embrace the meaning of Thanksgiving Day or you can ignore it. You can wallow in the tragedy of the past, or you can move into the promise of the future. You can enter the new year the same old person you are now, or you can enter it better, wiser, and more compassionate.

Keep in mind however, that this coming year may be your last. You may not see another Thanksgiving Day. So as you gather with family, or spend the holiday alone, the power is in your hands. You can grow, or you can sit and wait to die. You can survive and blossom, or dry up and blow away. There is a whole year in front of you. What you do with it is up to you.

Give Thanks this Thanksgiving Day.

Paw-Paw John


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