Thanksgiving: A Conventional Disclaimer-Free Holiday
By Tai Anderson, Thanksgiving 2016
"I don't want to sound pretentious, but (pretentious statement.)"
"No offense, but (offensive statement.)"
"I'm not a racist, but (racist statement.)"
"I don't want to sound sexist, but (sexist statement.)"
"It goes without saying, but (continued talking.)"
We all learn about oxymorons and paradoxes in high school with the shining examples of "military intelligence" and "jumbo shrimp." However, the statements above don't seem to have an actual description or summarizing term, though we encounter them everyday. This article refers to these kind of statements as "conventional disclaimers." I like that working title. Conventional disclaimers have worked their way into our everyday conversations. We all understand that when someone uses a conventional disclaimer, the statement that follows will almost always undermine the very point they were saying they were not making.
A few years ago, my band was working on a Christmas album. In the typical Christmas album format, we were going to include some standards as well as a few original compositions. Upon sitting down to work on writing a song for the album, I discovered that I had some mixed feelings about Christmas. As a child, Christmas was always my favorite holiday. However, as an adult, the holiday seemed to come with a good bit of baggage. With a large family, the holiday season brought a whole lot of stress, shopping and commercialism. I found that I had to work really, really hard to find the sacred in the occasion. When I expressed my frustrations with Christmas to friends, they usually responded with "Well, the real meaning of Christmas is (insert gospel narrative.)" That just didn't cut it for me.
Though writing the song provided a nice cathartic outlet, I still struggle with Christmas. The next few weeks bring so much stress, none of which really has anything to do with the "real meaning of Christmas." I now hear the statement as just another qualifying disclaimer at worst and an aspirational statement at best. I'm not trying to be a scrooge, but .... (Oops, I almost did it myself!)
If my assertion has you feeling defensive, try this experiment. Don't buy your kids any presents this year. Instead, just spend Christmas morning reading the Christmas story and going to church. It's not going to fly. Assuring them that the "real meaning" of Christmas is about Jesus, not an Xbox, seems to only work if you get them an Xbox.
Perhaps, the real meaning of anything is where you exert the most time and energy; the most resources, the most focus.
For Christmas, we redeem the holiday by carving out time to honor the birth of Christ. But, if we're honest, it's hard to make that a priority. Christmas is about shopping, gifts, year-end earnings, the economy, parties, etc. At least, that's how we spend the majority of our time, thoughts, energy, and resources. If you don't struggle with that, please leave a comment and tell me your secret, magic formula.
That brings me to Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. To me it's a perfect, spiritual holiday. It's a holiday dedicated to gratitude. Don't get me wrong, it's history is not flawless as it certainly brings to mind our tumultuous relationship with Native Americans. However, in our modern cultural practice of Thanksgiving, it's pretty darn pure, and to me, pretty darn spiritual.
You see, Thanksgiving doesn't require a conventional disclaimer. You simply get together with the people you love, enjoy a great meal, and express your gratitude to God for the blessings of the year. That might not seem like an overtly spiritual or religious holiday. But, I beg to differ. The bible has repeated calls to approaching God and one another with gratitude. It's not relayed as a good idea, but rather as a spiritual imperative, a command.
I know that just as Christmas has some baggage for me, Thanksgiving might bring some baggage for you. Perhaps, you're not a football fan. Perhaps, you're trying to navigate the feast on a diet. Perhaps, the stresses of the recent political season have brought tension into your family's gathering. If that's the case, I have a simple suggestion. Embrace the power of gratitude. A few minutes of genuine gratitude can help to redeem the tensions Thanksgiving might have surfaced in your own life. That's why Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday to begin with. He knew that gratitude was the key to build empathy, and empathy was the only way to bring healing. If that's not divine, than nothing is.
P.S. I'm incredibly grateful that you have taken the time to read this blog. I truly hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and holiday season. Tai