It is 24 November, 2005: Thanksgiving Day in Biloxi, Mississippi. My second day off since Katrina came onshore 29 August, I am volunteering to serve food at one of the many free dinners for those still unable to cook their own meals in anything like a *home*. Thousands of residents are still in shelters; most stores remain shuttered, mud-filled, or destroyed. We 20 volunteers gather near the pass-through of the High School Cafeteria as we prepare to open the doors and welcome our guests. We expected a crowd of 200 but served many more than that. Our leader asks us to circle and hold hands as she intones a blessing for our mission. Her heartfelt offering of thanks focused on the important stuff: thanks for life, for the compassion that was pouring into Biloxi from around the world, for all of the donations of food that we were about to serve to those who had lost so much. But what I remember most about her prayer was her final reminder to smile, because “no matter how bad it gets or what might be going *wrong*, it cannot be worse than August 29”. This message is especially poignant for us today as we hear news from the Philippines. Let’s pause and give thanks for the life that we have and our myriad opportunities each and every day to give our love to those around us and throughout our world.
Sadly however, the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – has assumed equal if not greater importance than the holiday itself. As retail businesses seize the opportunity to have their ledgers reflect a profit, we are subjected to an extended retail media blitz that has worked so well that shopper stampedes on Black Friday have resulted in deaths and serious injuries to shoppers and store employees.
All this casts a deep shadow on the sacredness of Thanksgiving, and on the love that is reflected in the tradition of gift-giving during the holiday season. We can choose differently. We can reconnect to Thanksgiving in a way that sincerely celebrates our relationship to the life-force of the food we eat and those we share it with. We can model for our children the sacred act of “Thanks Giving” and communion that honors the abundance of the Earth from which we have evolved and that we share.
We can also re-imagine holiday gift-giving and traditions. We can shop locally or, better yet, make our gifts from local materials as an act of devotion that honors the recipient. We can eliminate TV from Thanksgiving weekend and join the “Buy Nothing Day” response to “Black Friday.” Rather than shop, we can give things that cost no money: a walk in the woods, a massage, doing dishes for a month, a handwritten letter of gratitude. We can volunteer as a family for an afternoon of community service, giving our children the opportunity to learn how good it can feel to contribute to someone who has less than they do.
Let’s revive the original spirit of the holidays so they are an expression of thanksgiving and love that honors and celebrates our loved ones, our communities, and the greater web of life of which we are a part. How we choose to celebrate the season shapes our world. This holiday season, let us reflect carefully on the values we wish to live by and reconnect the thanks with the giving.