Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Consumerism
Thanksgiving is over. What now?
“The holiday shopping season got off to an ugly start with shoppers pepper-spraying one another to battle for bargains and robbers shooting shoppers to steal their Black Friday purchases, police said on Friday.” – Reuters (full story)
The day after Thanksgiving is always the biggest shopping day of the year. Something about this strikes me as perverse. Around Christmas, everyone is encouraged (for the sake of convenience) to sit down and make a list of all the things they want, and especially the things they don’t need, so they can then pass the list to others. In my more cynical moments, I wonder why we don’t all just buy ourselves things for Christmas and skip the nonsense of exchanging lists.
It might be too simplistic to say consumerism is evil. I’m not an economist, but consumerism seems to be an almost inevitable outgrowth of wealth and freedom, neither of which are bad. But one of the worst aspects of consumerism is perceived need. Even though much post-thanksgiving shopping is for Christmas presents, somehow we get it into our heads that buying the right gifts is some kind of necessity that must be undertaken under pain of death, rather than the jovial act of generosity it’s supposed to be. For many, Christmas shopping seems to be a terrible burden, a creeping doom to be attacked with frightening gusto, desperation, and apparently, pepper spray. It’s as if people feel their relationships with those closest to them really depended on buying the right stuff. It might behoove Christians to spend a few more days cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving before it’s forgotten in Christmas shopping shenanigans.
But what is the “spirit of thanksgiving” and why is it important? Well, Thanksgiving as a regular celebration came along in the 1660s in New England. Despite the sordid history between Europeans and Native Americans, the associated “thanksgiving story” you were taught in elementary school is true, more or less. After landing in America, the Plymouth colony didn’t have enough food to last long, and starvation was a serious concern. However, they managed to befriend the Wampanoag Native Americans, who gave them seeds and taught them how to fish. The gift was not merely food, but friendship and instruction. I picture Wampanoag folks patiently trying to show the bumbling pilgrim by example how to catch a fish, like a father would teach a son. Perhaps one of the most fitting ways to celebrate Thanksgiving would be to thank God for our teachers–the parents, professors, mentors, and friends who have set us straight more than a few times.
As Christmas approaches, we shouldn’t banish Thanksgiving. Christmas is a time, above all others, to thank God for his gifts. Thankfulness is the cure for greed. Giving thanks for all we have serves as a humbling reminder that despite our ceaseless desire for more, what we have is really enough. His grace is sufficient.