As I wake from my after-Thanksgiving dinner nap (yes, those of you who know me are sagely nodding), I’m struck once-again by the materialism I see on television and in my email box. It’s there throughout the year, but really ramps up in these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The pressure to buy ‘stuff’ for yourself and those you love at outrageously ‘low’ prices for the holidays. It used to be that stores and people started the shopping frenzy in the wee hours of Black Friday morning. Now some stores open Thanksgiving evening to get a jump on their competition. Is this really necessary? I don’t think so. It’s not about the stuff!
Growing up, my family went to my aunt and uncle’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a tradition. We would bring some special dishes to share and my aunt always cooked to feed a crowd, no one ever went home hungry. The house was small with one television. They had five kids, we had two. If you add the adults, we had a nice group of 11. As the kids grew up, our dinner guest list grew up too, with spouses and grandkids. What loud, messy, fun times we had! How I looked forward to those dinners! (Btw, those post-dinner naps got started here, with lots of joking and ribbing). The only gifts were the tasty leftovers that everyone took home.
My family went to my grandparents – both sets – as part of our Christmas tradition. We all lived in MN so winters tend to be cold. It never really felt that way, too much love and drama going on, especially on my mom’s side of the family. My mom’s family was big – 9 kids – and diverse in their ages and interests. I had so many aunts and uncles, cousins and step cousins, I’d be hard pressed to name them all. Some portion of the family – whoever was available that year – got together in my grandparent’s big brick house to celebrate family and the birth of Christ. The meals were healthy and home cooked, the gifts that were exchanged were simple and often handmade or hand-me-downs. With so many kids around, we didn’t care. My dad’s family was smaller, just him and his sister, with a total of 5 grandkids. Those Christmas’ were just as fun! Small group, lots of hugs and joking (grandpa loved to laugh). Simple gifts exchanged. I wouldn’t trade a moment.
Now that I’m grown with a family of my own, we have our own family traditions. Thanksgiving at my parents’ house and Christmas at our house. It’s a small group. We missed Thanksgiving at my parents’ this year due to some unusual conflicts, and we really missed it. Like REALLY missed it. And it wasn’t the food, which is good but not fabulously amazing, it was the fellowship! It was the people and the connection! Note to self: We will NOT miss Christmas!
I’m not against shopping, don’t get me wrong. In fact, shopping with family or friends can be amazing fun! I just don’t think it is as important as we make it out to be during this holiday time. I believe the holidays are for other things. I believe they are about celebrating the people we love – family, friends, and friendly strangers – and God. The abundance of gatherings, the food (yum!), the smiles, hugs and laughter are amazingly life affirming. And it doesn’t matter if the gatherings are big family get-togethers with all the drama that inevitably happens, or small groups of friends, or fellowship at your church. Every positive connection we make nourishes our soul.
As I get older, I realize that my loved ones are getting older too and won’t be here forever, which makes it so much more important to cherish our time now. Life is upredictible, age doesn’t matter, there’s no guarantee of what tomorrow will bring. Intellectually we know that, but how often do we really ‘know that’ as we fritter away precious moments? The stuff – television, video games, and phone/Facebook – can wait. Get up, get out, love someone today. Help someone today. Smile at someone today. Say a kind word to someone today. Do something that matters! You’ll be glad you did.