The Homefront: Start your Christmas season with thanks giving
Thanksgiving is actually the best preparation tool we have for the Christmas season.
Some folks complain that Thanksgiving doesn’t get the respect it should because it’s sandwiched between flamboyant, macabre, colorful, candy-filled Halloween and all-consuming, all-encompassing, monthlong, “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Christmas. They’re probably right.
The fact that Thanksgiving survives at all is a testament to its purpose and mission. Thanksgiving is something like the calm before the storm, the deep breath you take before pushing off the top of the water slide, the last turn you make off the ski lift before plunging downhill. Because once you start dashing through the snow toward Christmas, there’s no time for thoughtful reflection. By then, we’re way too far into the hubbub of the season for such nonsense as that.
But Thanksgiving — the holiday that tells us by its very name what we’re supposed to do with it — is the perfect pre-Christmas preparation. We just need to brush up our follow-through skills to get the most out of this underappreciated opportunity.
Think about what we do with Thanksgiving. We give thanks, right? We help our kids make paper turkeys. And what goes on those colorful tail feathers? All the things they’re thankful for. We’ve done this for eons. In any clever way we can dream up, we coach our kids to list all the things they’re thankful for. We never allow them to list the things they don’t have or the things they want. Nope, we are firm that Thanksgiving lists are all about the things they’re thankful for.
Why do we do this? Well, look at the name. Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. That’s what we teach them to do. Just before the season of “Here’s my list to Santa of all the things I want,” we compel our kids to write a “Here’s my list of all the things I’m thankful for.”
But with Christmas following right after Thanksgiving, our kids are encouraged to think of and ask for all the things they don’t have just weeks after they’re urged to think of and give thanks for all the things they do have. They’re prodded to write letters to Santa listing the things they want and to sit on his lap at the mall to give him a face-to-face report that includes assurances they’ve been a good kid this year and therefore deserve to receive whatever items they request.
The risk in this oddly placed practice that so quickly brushes off those experiences of reflecting on what they’re thankful for is that our kids could easily end up believing the joy of Christmas is tied to the things they get, not the things they give.
As our years pile up, we grown-ups begin to realize the basic, honest truth that what we give brings more personal joy than what we get. A recollection of our most favorite Christmas memories will naturally include a couple of things we’ve received but likely be filled with many more giving experiences — those times when we gave the perfect gift that surprised and delighted someone else.
That’s the “thanks giving” part of the experience — teaching our kids how to selflessly give, and then how to recognize the joyful gratitude that comes from that kind of giving.
It seems every Christmas season runs the risk of tipping too far into the “getting” mindset. We can slide this beloved season back to the “giving” side by focusing more on giving and gratitude.
It is, after all, a global celebration of one of the greatest gifts given to us all. Naturally, it should be a season when we give thanks for the giving.
D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.