If you want to start a heated conversation, casually ask a group, “So, what do you think about playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving?” Immediately, people will start shouting, pounding their fists on the table, and throwing various items of food and Fiestaware at those of differing opinions.
Okay, so maybe not. But I have gotten some pretty heated responses when I’ve asked this question over the past few days, everything from, “It’s a sin” to “It just makes me so happy inside that I can’t wait.”
I am one of those crotchety people who is against Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Just against, not violently opposed. I’m not going to go torch your computer if I hear strains of “The Little Drummer Boy” coming from your Spotify account. (I used to have this as "Sleigh Ride, until one of my apartment-mates reminded me that this song, along with "Jingle Bells" was once a Thanksgiving song, of all things. So, in theory, those two are acceptable, although I question the legitimacy of this logic.) Still, I think there’s something to be said about letting Thanksgiving have its time before rushing on to the next thing.
I love Christmas, don’t get me wrong. But I think most of us could agree on two things: Thanksgiving is highly underappreciated, and in a contest for ideological purity, it would beat Christmas any day. Why? Because Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, while Christmas is about giving stuff.
Now, you could argue that, in practice, both holidays are really about getting time off work and stuffing yourself with good food and that Christmas has just managed to do a better job of drawing the season out longer.
On the other hand, Thanksgiving doesn’t have as much there to exploit. It assumes that we’re already blessed, that we’re already surrounded by good things to give thanks for. At least in theory, it focuses on what we have, not what we want.
That’s why I think Thanksgiving should have a little time for itself. I need to remember, even if it’s only for one week in the middle of November, that there’s something to be said for living in the present.
The present is a little fragment of time that also gets pushed aside, because we can choose to live in the past or the future instead. I tend to do this. Sometimes I get caught up in memories and wish I could go back, or more often, I think about the future, which can be exciting or terrifying, depending on the day.
But those aren’t the only two options available to take us out of the present. As a writer, I get the alternate privilege of spending days at a time creating and living in a fantasy where I can control everything that happens. But even non-writers can live in a fictional world—believing Facebook accurately reflects the real lives of others, constantly second-guessing choices and daydreaming about “what if,” or building up a worldview that says that stuff and partying can bring long-term satisfaction.
The present is a simple thing, really. It’s quiet. Doesn’t draw a lot of attention to itself. It’s not made of hypothetical questions, worry, recollections, political speculation, or nostalgia. It’s about enjoying the food we have before us with the people around us. It’s looking back a little to see what God has done and looking forward a little to get excited about a new year coming up. But mostly, it’s just saying, “Here I am, and here’s what God has given me.”
Doing that gives you a sense of security, I think, in those other worlds you could be living in. Thanksgiving means that, even if you have regrets about the past, God is still good and has brought you this far and to this place for a reason. It also means that, even if you have fears about the future, God is good and will continue to be good no matter what else happens.
That’s Thanksgiving to me. It’s a day that forces me to remember things that I should probably think about all the time.
Christmas will come, but right now it’s November, and I will be thankful, not just for what I have at this moment, but for the fact that I have this moment.
Santa, Frosty, and the entire Trans-Siberian Orchestra can just wait awhile.