Trying to make the most of holidays today can be discouraging. But we can still make our Thanksgiving a rich and memorable day; indeed, it can be a day that stands out as truly special.
This will require our being intentional and making some hard choices. The reality is that strong forces today make it difficult to have what should be an ‘ordinary’ rich observance of Thanksgiving. I’m not talking here about setting a high bar for an old-fashioned celebration, where everybody dresses nicely and feasts together at the table making toasts and telling stories, punctuated by shared work in the kitchen, all day long.
Many of us will need to make an effort simply to preserve a stretch of time where our group is physically present-to and attuned-to one another. I won’t focus here on the negative. Yet we must live in real time and recognize how changing practices and technologies have made ordinary physical presence in festivity hard to achieve.
A central challenge to our Thanksgiving celebration is shopping. Let’s speak frankly. Shopping is a necessary and sometimes fun and fulfilling part of life today; it can even be a nice group activity. That said, it must also be recognized for its power to take us away from things that matter more. Precisely because shopping is normal and necessary, it has a way of insinuating itself into corners of life where it doesn’t belong. And, of course, behind this constant creep is the powerful push of vast industries that gain from that creep.
Rich time together around the table or at the hearth is simply irreplaceable in human life. Arguably, it most defines who we are.
And it is the life of our home that suffers. It is we who suffer; especially the most vulnerable, namely the elderly and the children—those who whether they know it or not have the most pressing need to belong and be together. Too often, we bemoan how the bottom has dropped out of home life while we participate—even if unwittingly—in its demise. It is incumbent on us to set hard stops. Others cannot or will not say ‘no’ for us.
The ancient philosophical tradition, as well as the Biblical tradition, clearly recognize and articulate the danger of commerce. This can cause surprise; we wonder, “is commerce actually dangerous?” We must be clear on this. Commerce has a necessary place in life and can be done well. At the same time, long human experience shows that commercial practices have a tendency to jump the rails. They take on more importance than they should, and they squeeze out things that are more important. A common casualty is the relationships that matter most.
I think an honest assessment will show that while particular shifts toward more or new shopping practices might be innocuous, nonetheless the overall encroachment of shopping can have, and indeed already has had, serious consequences. And this is most notable in the diminution of times and places for leisure activities, which by their nature calls for a kind of free-space.
Beyond question, shopping from a home device can save time and hassle. Even so, the possibility of shopping (not to mention other activities) at any time or place has removed a significant ‘barrier’ that necessarily made shopping-free spaces and times. A whole commercial world, as we now well know, is ever but a click away. And this is so, even during our Thanksgiving meal, and just after it. Unless we explicitly say no.
Any ‘no’ that is hard to say must be rooted in an enthusiastic ‘yes.’ In this case, what we are saying ‘yes’ to is both transcendently good and genuinely fragile. Rich time together around the table or at the hearth is simply irreplaceable in human life. Arguably, it most defines who we are.
This Thanksgiving, we have an opportunity to say this ‘yes’ and to lean into it, and make it active and consequential. The ‘no’s’ this entails are worth making. And the fruits will endure far beyond the confines of Thanksgiving Day. ~ ~ ~
Note: The above piece was posted today at the Institute for Family Studies Blog.
*FIVE EASY, PRACTICAL TIPS* to help you make the most of your Thanksgiving Day:
And, Announcing our Live, Online, Read Aloud on December 20, the Wednesday before Christmas, to inspire you in your Christmas traditions. Together we’ll read
HILAIRE BELLOC’s A Remaining Christmas, the classic short essay that gives a whole new perspective on Christmas rituals. ALL are welcome.
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.