Overcoming Thanksgiving Cynicism

I noticed that I’ve been subtly avoiding the posture of thanksgiving this weekend. Odd, don’t you think? Especially coming from someone found of the phrase “thankful hearts offered here.” I suppose I’ve been burned by the marketing techniques of the retail culture I’ve worked in these last three years. Thanksgiving seems a suitable excuse for every high-priced clothing boutique in the mall to offer yet another sale. I’m also miffed at the way our secular age has replaced almost all of the sacred feasts with municipal holidays. According to the ‘Canadian Holidays’ calendar I and the rest of my country subscribe to, this second weekend of October is when we are to have thankfulness forced down our thoughts through yet another pumpkin and cranberry adorned turkey. (Next year it will be a different, random weekend. And your American cousins? They have to wait until November to “raise their song of harvest home.”)

Truth be told, it is easier to be thankful when my heart is full to bursting, surrounded by many joys and successes. And lately it hasn’t been. Contentment and satisfaction have avoided me this month like circling blackbirds avoiding their roost. As I realize this I ask the question: when do I offer thanks? When my circumstances alone dictate it? “Count your blessings, name them one by one” my sister sings to herself as she cooks. But if I rely on that attitude, what happens when every blessing is removed? A friend sits alone in a foreign city this Thanksgiving, recently abandoned by his until-now fiancée. Another dreads the weekend because the wounds of his divorce are still too fresh and the lack of family on a such a holiday bring the pain surging back. Yet another fights both the discouragement and the effects that a debilitating Lupus diagnostics brings. A 100 Days of Happy campaign might teach you to enjoy simple pleasures, but it will not bring the hope that devastation has removed. “Count your blessings, every doubt will fly. And you will be singing when the days go by?” Try saying that when your friend is like Job on the ash heap and wait for broken pottery to be thrown in your face.  


So where is the root of my thanksgiving? A passing comment in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans provides a clue. “I thank my God through Christ Jesus for all of you, that your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” John Calvin, in his commentary on that verse, offered some words that made me think. “All our blessings are gifts of God. We should accustom ourselves to such forms of expression as may ever rouse us more keenly to acknowledge God as the bestower of all good things. And if it is right to do this in little blessings, how much more out we to do so in regard to faith, which is neither a commonplace nor a indiscriminate gift of God?”

And that’s the key. My thanks should not be based solely on my blessings which are plenty - Americanos on brisk autumn days, golden light falling on my richly shelved bookcase, Wes Anderson films and corduroy pants paired with woollen sweaters - but in the character of their Giver. Then, when the gifts themselves are gone, or removed, or forsaken, or taken, or shown to be false, the Giver himself will prove sure. For He does not change like the circumstances. His character is constant and our only hope. 

So I will keep my eyes rooted to him and his character and marvel at how the Gospel reveals it in its fullness. This will be my primary thanksgiving, but I will praise him also for all blessings that flow from him, “good gifts from above…coming down from the father of lights with whom there is no variation of shadow due to change” (James 1:17). With such a focus I will enjoy what he gives, thus making everyday, the hard ones included, a Thanksgiving Day.