This year, I had my first real thought about Thanksgiving on November 17th. I hosted my in-laws for Thanksgiving so I had begun preparations and plans long before that day, but I hadn’t considered the actual thanks-giving part. I’d simply been doing what I’ve done all fall--running from one thing to the next--and I hadn’t once stopped to contemplate what I am thankful to God for or stopped to help my children consider what they’re thankful for.
I felt bad about my lack of foresight and planning, especially for my children, and pledged to myself to do better next year. But then I had a thought (two in one day!). Wouldn’t Christmas be best if Thanksgiving bled right into December? Wouldn’t it help my heart and the hearts of my children if we continued thanks-giving in a season focused so much on activity, gifts, and creating “perfect” experiences? Thanksgiving, I realized with great relief, doesn’t have to end on the fourth Thursday of November; it can in actuality be the beginning and the foundation of the Christmas season.
Here are 4 ways I’m bringing Thanksgiving to Christmas:
1. I’m keeping it simple.
This year, when I got our Christmas decorations out, none of the lights were working on our garland that we hang outside around our front door. I thought for a split-second about going to the store to buy new lights or new garland, and then I remembered that, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m keeping it simple this year. Thanksgiving is the lone holiday that’s stayed simple. We don’t decorate for Thanksgiving, we don’t spend time and money on gift-giving or buying candy, and we generally associate it with life-giving things such as relationships, food, and rest. Bringing Thanksgiving in to Christmas means focusing less on decor and events and finding the perfect presents and more on being with people and reflecting on the season. It doesn’t need to be perfect. I’d rather it be simple and savored.
2. I’m sharing my gratefulness.
On Thanksgiving, we typically go around the room and share what we’re thankful for. Sometimes the kids can get silly, but the most profound gifts we’re thankful for generally circle around family and friends. At no other time of the year am I so acutely conscious of how blessed I am by the people in my life than I am at Thanksgiving. Christmas, then, is a natural extension of Thanksgiving in that it allows me to be with the people that I’m most thankful for, whether it’s a friend at her Christmas party or my children at their school production or family on Christmas morning. I’ve decided to bring Thanksgiving to Christmas by writing and verbalizing my gratefulness for friends and family and sharing it with them in Christmas cards, emails, face-to-face interactions, and notes in the mail.
3. I’m talking about the Gift with my kids.
Even the youngest child knows that when a gift is received, a response is required: “Thank you.” More than anything else this season, I want my children to understand the profound gift they’ve been given in Jesus coming, and I want them to anticipate the gift of Jesus coming back. Bringing Thanksgiving to Christmas means we’ll talk about Jesus the Gift on repeat and we’ll respond with mouths and hearts that say, “Thank you.” This may be for me more than anyone else because it tunes my heart to contemplate and express the meaning of everything else we do at Christmas.
4. I’m translating Thanksgiving talk into Christmas action.
At the Thanksgiving table, my children often express gratefulness for basic food and clothing items. I also find myself thinking about how thankful I am for our home and for financial resources. Christmas offers us many opportunities to go one step further and turn what we’re thankful for into a gift to others. We can give food and clothes through local and international opportunities. We can make gifts for the people who serve us faithfully at school and church. Or we can help the churches in our area who provide shelter for those without homes. I look forward to leading my children to move their gratefulness to action.
So far, the best part about bringing Thanksgiving into our Christmas season is that it’s turned our eyes off of ourselves and on to what matters most. It’s kept our hearts at rest, our mind on others, and our hands and eyes searching for ways to serve. And perhaps when next year rolls around, even if I don’t think about Thanksgiving until November 17th, we will have created a whole new tradition for ourselves.
Christine Hoover is the author of The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart and the forthcoming book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel. She has contributed to the Desiring God blog, In(courage), and Christianity Today, and blogs for ministry wives at www.GraceCoversMe.com. Christine and her husband Kyle, a church planting pastor, have three boys.