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The Subtlety of Thanksgiving

The Subtlety of Thanksgiving November 25, 2021

I have always thought of Thanksgiving as the most subtle of holidays.

As a kid, Christmas was this wild explosion of excitement. There were gifts, a mysterious visit from Santa in the middle of the night, and ballads unique to the season. Easter always (rightfully) had a dramatic tone, with passion plays always playing a part. July 4th had fireworks, nothing subtle about that. Even New Years has the hoards of people in TimesSquare, squeezing all the intensity we can manage out of a crystallized ball descending in slow motion.

But Thanksgiving was different. It felt different. There was a quieter aura about it. There was a buzz about food. But it was a lower buzz, like a kind of hum. There were football and FRIENDS episodes, a slow-moving parade. In fact, when the commentators shouted excited one-liners about whatever was happening in the parade, it felt obtrusive, out-of-place.

 

The Last Barricade

It all comes apart pretty quickly. As soon as Black Friday hits, it is a frenzy, all the way to Christmas Day. And Black Friday tries to begin in, like, August now.

In some ways, it seems as though we are trying to burst through the subtlety of Thanksgiving. 

The day of Thanksgiving is a great opportunity. It is a time to pause, to rest. To breathe.

Like many families, we often do some iteration of going around and saying what we are thankful for. At least for me, this often feels forced and contrite. I am never sure what I am going to say. But as soon as I start speaking, it seems there was much more gratitude in me than I am prepared for.

My father, famously, starts to tear up when he prays. The kids look around, all the attention on them and struggle with what the concept of gratitude is truly about. We speak and we listen. We share.

 

A Simple Magic

It is short. But it is enough. It is an opportunity. And the pause, the intention, the subtlety, brief though it may be, works. It is a simple magic.

Unfortunately, it is all too often gone as quick as it arrived.

What would it take to extend these moments of magic? Does the subtle power of Thanksgiving lose something if we do it more consistently? Or does it gain power?

I think one of the great challenges in my life has been moving from moments of goodness to habits of goodness. Rare and unique experiences feel special. They are different. And there is a treasure in their distinctness from the rest of life, a significant part of their value. The magic of Thanksgiving really cannot be created every single day.

On the other hand, the heart of what causes the logic, the source, seems like something that can transition into everyday life. I can adopt practices of gratitude everyday without it having to be Thanksgiving everyday.

That seawall that seems to get breached every Black Friday does not have to get breached. It is tougher. The circumstances change. Meaning, the opportunity looks different. But the heart of gratitude, the subtle magic of Thanksgiving, can and should become a habit of the heart, a stream of goodness that permeates the entire year.

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