Give thanks in all circumstances . . .” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
For many people, Thanksgiving is about tradition. Your tradition might be to hunt in the morning and then get together for dinner in the evening. Maybe your tradition is going to Grandma’s house or Mom’s house. You might have the tradition of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or heading out late Thanksgiving night to get to Black Friday shopping early. You could have a tradition of playing cards or heading outside for a game of football. It might just be watching football and taking a nap (one of my traditions, actually). Again, for so many of you, beyond just the turkey and the trimmings, Thanksgiving traditions are paramount and super important.
But for some people, including myself, Thanksgiving this year will be different and traditions will be changed, altered, or not happening at all. I remember the first time we had Thanksgiving after my Dad died or the first time we didn’t go to Grandma Schmika’s. I remember my last Thanksgiving in IL and with my family, 2001, or the very first Thanksgiving I had without any family at all, while I was on internship in 2000. This year will be the first Thanksgiving since we were married where Amy and I won’t be spending it with any other family members, as her family is in Florida and mine is in Michigan. We will be on our own, which will be new and different and strange.
For many, things will be different this year. Often traditions will change because of death. Suddenly, a grandparent or parent isn’t there at the table or out in the hunting shack or in the car on the way to the mall. Maybe it is a child or an aunt or uncle that is missing. Maybe someone has gotten married and so Thanksgiving is spent at a different place or in a different way. Other circumstances also may be causing traditions to be different or changed. And, of course, there are people whose Thanksgiving is still another day where they struggle to feed themselves or their children or just find a warm place to stay for a night.
Having traditions is a big part of Thanksgiving, but sometimes we make those traditions into the only part of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not about the traditions, it is about giving thanks, even in circumstances that have changed and even on a day when Thanksgiving isn’t a day of happiness but sadness or struggle. We gather on Thanksgiving to give thanks to God for the gift of life and salvation through Jesus Christ. We celebrate Thanksgiving to give thanks to God for giving us strength to handle the difficult times of life and for the times of joy, peace and rest. We remember to give thanks not only for the stuff we see, but the people whom we have loved and been loved by in our life, whether they are next to us at the dinner table, a thousand miles away, or in the peace of God’s glory.
When Amy and I sit down at our table at noon (pausing the Bears game) for our first ever Thanksgiving dinner on our own, I will give thanks for her family gathered in Florida and mine in Michigan. I’ll give thanks for my parents and her mom in heaven. I’ll give thanks for our dogs and for the chance to be together, even if it is a little different this year. I’ll remember all those I know who will feel a void and sadness on Thanksgiving Day. And I’ll especially give thanks that in the ups and downs of the year, God has walked with me and kept me afloat when it felt like I might drown and laughed with me in the most joyous of moments. I will give thanks that Christ died for my sins and will one day bring me to everlasting life. And I will give thanks for Amy’s stuffing, the best I ever had. I don’t even have to share it with as many others this year!
Whether you will be celebrating Thanksgiving as you always have or you will be in a new reality with new traditions, I hope that you will pause and give thanks to God, no matter what. And, I hope you will remember that everything you see and have in this earth, including life itself, is a gift from the God who has created you, loved you, saved you, and will be with you always till the end of the age. For that we can say, every day and always, “Thanks be to God!”