I don’t “get” major holidays.
Maybe I’m able to have this perspective because I haven’t often gotten major holidays, at least, not from work. Whether from working in a hospital, being in the military, or a combination of the two, I’ve often worked or been on call. At best – like this Thanksgiving – I only had the day itself off, so there really wasn’t a lot of time to prepare, get in the mood, or anything else.
So it puzzles me.
Let’s take Thanksgiving as a perfect example. The bare bones of the holiday come down to this: A number of people – usually, but not always, family – gather. They eat a meal, visit, perhaps do an activity or three together, and then go home.
My parents and grandparents have always lived a decent number of hours away from me – enough that casual visiting is simply not possible. (Case in point: I spent twice as long in a car yesterday as I spent at my grandmother’s.) What I just described is pretty much every time I go to visit my grandmother. In fact, because my parents live on the other side, they often make a point of trying to visit at the same time so that we can all see each other.
The only difference is that we were making an effort to be thankful.
The ritual – gathering on Thanksgiving – carries with it the obligatory attempt to be thankful for things we take for granted every day. It’s good that we remember that day, that the ritual helps us to remember.1 But the ritual can become so important that it replaces the actual intent. The problem with rituals, with tying a specific “good” thing – like remembering to be thankful – to specific events is that it makes it easy to forget the good thing outside of the ritual. Don’t believe me?
The biggest shopping day of the year is the day after we remember how thankful we are for what we already have.
I was really glad to see the thanksgiving advent calendars popping up. That’s great! I’ve been using Instagram to try to take a picture of something every day – to pause and see something more clearly, to reflect on it, to remember it.
Maybe the best way to take the stress, anxiety, and (often) anger out of the holidays is to quit focusing all that meaning2 into a single day or weekend. Take a moment – right now – to be thankful for what you already have.
And do it again tomorrow. Or later today. Or in an hour.
Feel free to eat turkey (or tofurkey) while you’re at it.
And if you haven’t yet, help someone else in the world be thankful. Stop by Spec The Halls, donate some money to Heifer International, and get a kick-ass eBook all at the same time!
1I think this is the value of scheduled religious services as well, by the way.
2Regardless of which holiday