Thanksgiving tends to be overlooked as people cast their eyes towards the 25th day of December. Our cultural landscape clearly shows this, too: Retailers are hoisting up towering Christmas trees, colorful lights are being strung across the roofs of homes, and Santa Claus is making his rounds at the local malls for eager tots long before we even carve our turkeys.
We love Christmas, and as Christ followers, what it represents—a day to remember the birth of the man who would reconcile us back to a holy and just God—once and for all.
Between the trees, holly, music, ugly sweaters, egg nog, movies, festive dishes, gifts and fake snow in a can, I love Christmas, but I’ve grown quite fond of Thanksgiving in recent years.
Though this Thursday is usually reduced to food and football, there’s more to consider in light of all the activities that occur on this memorable day. As Michael Hidalgo puts it, “Our national day of gratitude should be more than just a kickoff to the Christmas season.” He goes on to say that our collective passion for Christmas has caused us to ignore Thanksgiving.
In short, gratitude is overshadowed by getting.
Let’s choose otherwise this year.
Let’s be intentional this Thanksgiving.
Here are six ways to make your holiday more meaningful this year:
Before getting out of bed on the morning of Thanksgiving, pull out your Bible (or Bible app).
A good place to start in setting your attitude right this Thanksgiving is in Jude. “These people are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.”
We are a people given to grumbling, a people prone to complain about what we lack and others have. Take a moment to make this verse a confession, an honest prayer to God.
Then, follow it up with I Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Add to I Thessalonians 5:18 a word from Paul from the book of Ephesians. “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (5:20). Expel envy today and give thanks. This is an incredible opportunity to praise God for his blessings and make sure you don’t miss out on noticing them before you desire for more.
Go for a run.
As a distance runner, you might say that I’m biased here, but you will be taking in many calories in a matter of hours. A lot of cities have Turkey Trots that accommodate all ability levels. Should you be averse to running though, take a walk around the neighborhood and use this time to reflect on the kindness of God. Scripture tells us that He will provide all of our needs from the riches of His glory (Philippians 4:19).
Consider all that the Father has bestowed upon you beyond basic needs (see James 1:17). As the morning unfolds further and the sun begins to rise on the horizon, enter his presence with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalm 100:4).
Serve your family and friends.
We are lazy, selfish creatures, and this tendency is only amplified on Thanksgiving as the day is conducive to lounging around for hours on end. So instead of staying glued to the couch or sofa until the bountiful meal begins, choose instead to help in some way. Vacuum. Dust. Mow the lawn. Rake the leaves. Clean the toilets. Set the table.
Assist your mom, dad, aunt, grandmother and anyone else involved in the cooking process. I Samuel 12:24 affirms the power of serving. “But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.” Likewise, Jesus came not to be served—but to serve (Matthew 20:28). Service to others facilitates a contentment in the soul.
Resist the temptation of gluttony.
Thanksgiving is anchored by food. Lots of food. Unfortunately, the cornucopia leads to excess, multiple trips to the table for more servings of this and that. Here’s Michael Hidalgo again: “We stuff ourselves, loosen our belts to make room for our bloated stomachs and sit in front of the television watching football, just before we fall into a food coma. We eventually wake up to make a turkey sandwich from the leftovers.” I find this disheartening and arresting.
Proverbs 23:2 is haunting as well. “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.” Christ followers tend to downplay the excess of food, but it indicates our inability to exercise self-control. Gluttony is sin, and Paul exhorts us to not be mastered by anything (I Corinthians 6:12).
How should we approach the Thanksgiving meal then? Eat until you are full, not stuffed (though I do encourage you to add some stuffing to your plate). Give thanks for the spread that God has provided.
Strengthen family ties.
Thanksgiving, like other holidays, brings relatives together into one home, many from across the country (or world). You might be delighted to see your extended family, or wish that you can minimize talk time while they are in town. Differing personalities and worldviews can make for a disconnect and an evident awkwardness among quirky people.
Choose to be intentional though. Choose to bolster the strength of the relationships you have with family members, cousins and grandparents. Discover common ground. Identify shared interests. Seek out the wise counsel of your grandparents through a story in their lives. We tend to place grandparents on a pedestal, but they are flawed, sinful people like you and I. But they have ample wisdom to dispense from a full life of successes and failures, highs and lows, rock bottom and redemption. Heed what Godly wisdom they impart and tuck it away for the day you will find it to be helpful.
Hebrews 10:24 encapsulates the power of Thanksgiving. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” Like the finely cooked food on the dining room table, savor this time with your family and mop up every good memory like loose gravy into a Pillsbury crescent roll.
Let’s not neglect Thanksgiving this year even as the trimmings (and trappings) of Christmas inundate us on a daily basis. This is a simple holiday with a simple premise: gratitude. Don’t ignore it. Give thanks for your family; for a roof over your head; for food in the pantry; for transportation; for employment; for the ability to worship freely; for a God who loves you and me in a way that cannot ever be comprehended; and for a Savior who shows us that thankfulness is rooted in serving, a Savior who still forgives us when we are selfish instead of giving.
With a grateful heart, we give thanks. G.K. Chesterton puts it better than I ever could. “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”