As Quakers, we traditionally do not honor traditions such as Christmas, Halloween, the naming of weeks and months, swearing on the Bible.
Wait… what? Does anybody actually do this anymore?
Nobody that I know. The Quakers I know call the days of the week by their names, eat a giant turkey dinner on Thanksgiving and unwrap presents on Christmas morning.
The only difference between us and the rest of the culture is that we might participate in “Buy Nothing Day” rather than Black Friday (but then we go shopping all the same).
My question is: have we lost something?
By celebrating holidays (“holy” days?) with the rest of the culture, are we consolidating our worship of God? Are we trivializing it?
The answer, for me, is: absolutely.
When to Be Thankful
Take Thanksgiving, for example. (I know its not a “religious” holiday, but bear with me) I’ve seen a lot of folks on Facebook critiquing companies who have already started their advertising to Christmas shoppers.
I’ve also noticed folks observing the irony of Americans going shopping the day after they are supposed to be grateful for what they already have.
But I think that fighting for our practice of giving thanks on this one particular day each year is missing the point, which is this: we are incredibly blessed to be here. Every moment of this life is a joy. Our misery and disconnectedness is mainly because we have forgotten that. We don’t have a practice of maintaining our thankfulness.
What if we didn’t need Thanksgiving to remind us to be thankful?
What if our gratefulness exuded from us every time we walked out the door, greeted a friend or a stranger, took a breath?
I want this for myself because, selfishly, I know I would be happier, more connected.
I want this for you because I know it would build stronger relationships and emphasize your gifts.
I want this for us because it would build us up, connect us, vitalize our lives. Move us towards the “Beloved Community”.
Are We Ready to Make Every Day Thanksgiving?
Probably not. What the early Friends were attempting by abolishing the celebration of specific holidays was ambitious: every day is a holy day. We shouldn’t need Thanksgiving because we are constantly giving thanks.
I am not calling for the return of our abolishment of Holidays. I don’t believe that modern Friends have the discipline, the theological substructure or the community accountability. We would (and have) slipped into the pervasive and extremely convincing worldview that the advertisers would create for us: a severe and constant awareness of scarcity, of “not good enough”, of “someday I will have enough and achieve gratefulness”.
Instead, let’s take what we’ve been given and make it work for us. Or, even better, let’s make it work for God.
Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to be aware of and celebrate abundance. But I don’t need an excessive meal to do it. I want to see the abundance that is all around me all the time. And I want to celebrate it.
That is why, this year, I am going to re-invent Thanksgiving for myself. I will celebrate Thanksgiving all week. And I’d like to invite you to my Thanksgiving.
A Week of Giving Thanks
I would like to invite you into a week of giving thanks. Let’s try walking this path for a full seven days.
Instead of waking up in the morning and thinking about what feels bad and wrong, what I am striving toward and what I don’t have yet, I’m going to focus on what feels good and right, what I am blessed to experience and humbled to witness.
And I’m not going to just limit my thanks giving to the obvious ones… things that we are used to giving thanks for: prosperity, resources, loved ones, abundance. I’m going to give thanks for this entire human experience. Pain, anger, struggle, conflict.
Because these are just as easily gifts, and more often openings for God’s transformation.
Because every moment of this life is such a privilege.
And because my life and my impact on those around me is better when I know that.
12 thoughts on “We Don’t Need A Holiday To Give Thanks!”
Thankful for this blog post!
Happy thanksgiving Life Jon.
this has been in my mind recently. i love your solution and will give it a shot! thanks jon
Not sure exactly what Thanksgiving is – not being familar with the US – but with you on this – great post.
Bless you Jon Watts. My blended religion family members will be talking about this tomorrow when they arrive in Harrisburg from other Pennsylvania locations.
Penn’s Woods rocks even more because of you.
Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. Or at least, that’s how it got started.
Now there’s always an American Football game on the TV that day, giving quite a lot of husbands an excuse not to help their wives in the kitchen, despite the size of the meal they are expected to make. The next day is Black Friday, so named because it’s the day when all the “day after Thanksgiving” sales stores have get their financial books back out of the red and into the black.
If I recall correctly, it’s the biggest travel day of the year, since the expectation is that you make the trek to your family home, wherever in the country that may be.
Awww..I know what you’re saying…But I hope you find some time to be thankful, as Jon suggested. Every day is a good day to be appreciative. Yeah, the football games, the cooking and the travel..But I’m kind of thankful for all of it.
My mom was raised not Quaker but is now a very devout Quaker and Christian, and made a lot of effort to make the holidays religious. I don’t think it’s an exclusive thing to have the holidays and thankfulness year round, as you say, in fact, I would say the holidays help me to do that. For instance, I listen to Christmas music at different times of the year and it transports me to that same place of joy at Christ’s birth and God’s gift to us. Maybe Quakers went a liiitle too far with the banning of ritual? Sometimes I think humans need a little ritual. I would have a REALLY hard time giving up the holidays. That said, I totally wish Quakers had the umph and the substance to do it old school…
Since moving out from my parents’ homes, I’ve never had a Christmas tree. My mom expresses disappointment every year, and every year she buys me an ornament for Christmas, which then goes on her tree because I don’t have one. I don’t feel the need to own seasonal decorations, chop down a tree (or keep a fake one around, see also seasonal decorations), or follow along with the superficialities of Christmas. Sure, family all get gifts, but they’re handmade and useful (this year, they’re mostly getting handknit wool socks–last year was hats). I’m sure it drives family up a wall that when asked what I want for Christmas I answer “I don’t know; I have what I need.”
To explain the lack of tree I could legitimately use “Quakers aren’t supposed to celebrate Christmas,” tossing on a “like that” to reassure her that yes, Quakerism really is a generally Christian religion, please stop worrying I’ve turned heathen. But it seems most do celebrate it with the decorations and old Pagan customs in full force these days, so then it would end up seeming dishonest to say that we don’t!
Yesterday I found myself ‘home’ for the holiday, walking through my old neighborhood, on a glorious afternoon. The sun was brilliant and made all the leaves golden. As I rounded the corner of the park, I was faced with a choice: walk up the street with slightly less sun, but fewer painful memories, or stay in the sun, and walk through all of the memories, associated feelings, and general discomfort that hang in the air when I walk that particular block.
I was searching for the most enjoyable, or at least a less uncomfortable afternoon walk through my old neighborhood: not that street, not that path, not that tree. Everywhere I turned seemed to be crowded with some part of my past that I did not want to deal with.
And my relationships- as I walked towards the corner of decision, of sun-and-past or shade-and-lesser-past, I saw myself trying to skip over, ignore, forget, unmake all the hard feelings and challenges, (made up or real) in my relationships. With my dad, my sister, my ex, my neighbors, myself. If I could just avoid all the unpleasant things, it would finally feel Good: I would be able to Stay Happy.
And in that moment of recognition, I found myself paused in the sun, standing on a street corner where I’d stood before, graced by warming rays of light that held a vision, of being grateful for my life, as is.
For a moment I got to see myself welcome all the awkwardness, all the challenging feelings, all the despair, indecision, shame, all the choices I’d made- the distance from my family, the aloneness, the wrecks I’d made of my friendships, the pointlessness I’d been living in my life.
It was gentle and complete, and was gone as quickly as it came, but in its memory I recall a poem:
it’s kind of long, but if you’re interested: http://www.bartleby.com/142/103.html
for all that I ever am and will be
thank you earth
thank you god
Thank you, Mela. Been there, done that. Let’s celebrate together!
I just had a very similar conversation with a close friend yesterday. We were pondering what our lives would look like if we truly recognized each part of our past as gifts and blessings, no matter how difficult… even trauma. How would we behave differently? How might we walk differently on the Earth? How might we differently greet old friends and family?
Anyway, this is a beautiful sentiment & story. Thank you for sharing it.
It seems to me that Christ taught that even the lack of “things” we want can lead to blessings!
Here are the first four Beatitudes, alternated with some lines of praise from St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun.
BEATITUDE: How enriched are those who pant and gasp for the breath of the spirit, for theirs are the vast winds of Heaven!
CANTICLE: Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
BEATITUDE: How enriched are those who have watered their faces with tears while crying out, for they will be called to God’s side!
CANTICLE: Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
BEATITUDE: How enriched are those whose fever to acquire the stuff of earth has been quenched, for they will inherit the earth!
CANTICLE: Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
BEATITUDE: How enriched are those who are famished and ravenous to fulfull righteousness, for they will be satisfied!
CANTICLE: Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
A little more background on the paraphrase can be found here:
Let our impoverishments lead us to celebrate our riches!