A New Way to Be Thankful in a Time of “Thanksgetting”

Last week, I was awakened by a cheerful radio advertisement, advising all of us that the week before Thanksgiving would be “our last chance to get that special gift for ourselves before the holidays.” The announcer then called this very special time of year, “Thanksgetting.” I had to hear it a second time before I realized I had heard it right.

As I shook myself awake, I wondered—Wow, I actually thought sheer unadulterated commercialism couldn’t get any worse, but somehow we have managed to out-do ourselves. I am not a guy who shies away from gift-giving and shopping—in fact, I love it, and my family has come to happily rely on my crazed (I call it generous) holiday hunter/gatherer instincts. Yet I realized I had been leaving something important out of my preparations, and that was myself.

Happy Thanksgetting, everyone!

We now have a name, and a designated time before Black Friday, to get in a generous mood towards the one person we might be tempted to forget this time of year. Brilliant, really. No wonder the announcer was so enthusiastic. This re-naming really is a creative way to offer a fresh hook for an old holiday, where, to be frank, it was getting harder and harder to come up with fresh twists on its simple and somewhat well-worn message of…thankfulness.

Later in the day, though, looking for useful material for an upcoming Thanksgiving sermon, I found an old poem by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (remembered today for having, in a slightly hesitant and bemused way, encouraged the poetic musings of a recluse named Emily Dickinson). Despite the old New England fusty rhetoric, I got from him a glimpse of perhaps another way to re-cast Thanksgiving. He wrote, “An easy thing, O Power Divine/To thank thee for these gifts of thine…But when shall I attain to this—/To thank you for the things I miss?”

It took me a little while to get that one, like the radio ad that woke me up.

We are so used to looking at Thanksgiving from a viewpoint of abundance and material blessings (and yes, family, football and food) that to look at things we actively miss was…radical. Even refreshing. Because lately, the old markers of gratitude have been feeling more and more constrained and unimaginative. Being thankful for absence. That felt wise, somehow. It isn’t just the things that we now possess that have marked and changed us. Far from it. The things I have lost are among the things I have the deepest gratitude for having had in my life in the first place. The fact I miss them says so much about who I am, and perhaps, who I should try to return to.

So, I am thankful for many things this year, but most of all, for humor and hopefully, some perspective (painfully acquired or not). We are all so focused on abundance that for me, Thanksgiving is beginning to shift into a time of being thankful for more than the things I have, but also, and perhaps most deeply:

  • being thankful for the things I once had and was blessed by;
  • thankful for things I never got (and probably a good thing, too);
  • thankful for things not attained but key to future hopes I possess;
  • thankful for limits and imperfections which keep me humbled (mostly) and grounded;—and thankful for aspects of life that cannot be counted or accounted for — love, mostly.

Believe me, I am not closed to shifting my thinking about Thanksgiving. If I have to get something for myself this time of year, I think I have a pretty good list to work from.

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