The day following Halloween, which if our calendars are correct was November 1, two local radio stations began playing Christmas music around the clock. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week.
That’s right. Just a little more than seven weeks before we actually celebrate the birth of Christ, seven and a half weeks before Christmas actually does arrive, radio stations were already playing “Deck the Halls” and all that jazz, to quote from a “Charlie Brown” special.
But wait. There’s more.
Friends and family all noticed this year that Christmas decorations — including the new LED-equipped four-foot twinkling replica of the Eiffel Tower — went on sale in August. August, let’s see, that’s about 24 weeks before we celebrate the actual holiday. (And nothing says “hail to the King of Kings” like a twinkling replica of the Eiffel Tower. You remember the story. “… how the light on the top of the tower guided the three Wise Men to the place…”
It’s not worth joking about, really, this marathon we’ve created out of what should be a wonderfully religious holiday.
But the point here isn’t just the unbelievably early start to the so-called “Christmas season,” which is really a euphemism for the “make-it-or-break-it retail selling season. It isn’t just about the holiday catalogues that began arriving in the mail in late summer — honest to goodness, late summer. It’s not about the two cable and satellite television networks that began showing around-the-clock Christmas movies at the same time “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” invaded our radios.
It’s about the holiday that all this pre-Christmas schlock, all this pre-Christmas selling, all these pre-Christmas movies and music tempt us to overlook.
It’s about Thanksgiving, the holiday that America may have forgotten.
Thanksgiving, a holiday with the simple purpose of bringing friends and families together to share a meal and pause — just for a moment — to give thanks for all the blessings they have. Blessings that, with the exception of this one day, they often take for granted.
It’s as if Thanksgiving doesn’t exist anymore — stores are even opening Thanksgiving morning this year.
But the holiday does exist and we all need to realize that it has been celebrated in this country very year since 1863.
Smack in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln told a battered and beleaguered nation that they should pause on the last
Thursday in November and say thank you “to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Think about that for a moment while you’re trying to ignore “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on the store intercom. While the nation was at war with itself, a war in which nearly 650,000 men were to die, a war before the invention of military hospitals or field medics or any other health measures we now use to treat wounded warriors, the president said “let’s give thanks.”
And even in homes along the mud-caked streets of Washington, D.C., in a year when the outcome of the war was still in doubt and no one knew for sure if the nation would or could remain intact, people gathered their families, shared their meals, gave thanks for the food before them and prayed — oh, how they prayed said historian Shelby Foote — for the war to end.
Every year since then, in peacetime and economic depression, through World Wars one and two; through Korea and Vietnam and the morass of Iraq and Afghanistan, people have continued to cook their turkeys and gather their families. They’ve shared grace around the table, too, and recounted their blessings.
Several historians, including Crane Brinton, Robert Wolfe and many others, have credited the idea of holding an annual Thanksgiving holiday not just to President Lincoln, but to a journalist named Sarah Josepha Hale. In addition to writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Hale wrote a series of editorials in both 1862 and ‘63 which impressed the President.
They recounted the blessings of the union, of families and of our way of life. And they moved a president to act.
Oh, it’s true that there had been other Thanksgiving celebrations called by government in the years before it became an official holiday. Some governors proclaimed annual thanksgiving days in their individual states. But the important thing here is that, in the midst of the nation’s
worst war and what some would say was its most trying time, the president saw fit to tell the people how blessed they were and to remind them that they should give thanks to God.
Christmas has its time — and it’s not in September, October or early November. Our attention should turn to Christmas in the season called Advent; it’s a time we spend anxiously awaiting the arrival of the one who will save us all.
Let’s give thanks for that, if nothing else, on the last Thursday of this month. Let’s remember that God loves us and that is the greatest blessing of all.