Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Christmas Part of Thanksgiving?

I have heard a lot of people lately complaining about the fact that town Christmas lights are already going up and Christmas decorations are already in the stores. This is something I personally have never had an issue with because, to me, Christmas and Thanksgiving are part of each other. The more I get to talking to people about it, the more I realize how intertwined it is for a lot of other people, even if they don't realize it.

Photo by Diliff, through WikiCommons. 
I've had several conversations lately that go something like this:

John Doe: Christmas is getting so commercial. It's not even Thanksgiving and it's taking over the stores. They shouldn't have the Christmas decorations out yet.

Me: When does your family put up your tree?

John Doe: Oh it's this great tradition. After we eat Thanksgiving dinner we all go out and cut the tree and we decorate it and stuff. It's great.

At this point I stand there dumbfounded. How in the world can someone expect to put their tree up on Thanksgiving if they can't go buy the stuff to do it before then? And yes, I had someone say "We store it all from the year before." The problem is that you had to buy it some time.

For many Christians, the top thing on their Thanksgiving thankfulness list is the gift we receive from Jesus Christ. Our eternal life assurity, guidance from the Holy Spirit, and the sacrifice He made in order to allow all of that to happen. That means Christmas (and Easter) are embedded in a Christian's Thanksgiving celebration.

Photo from WikiCommons, work of the US Government.
So now I'm wondering why. Why do we get mad that they put up the city Christmas decorations (even if they don't turn them on yet) before Thanksgiving, but Friday when we go shopping (another tie in of Christmas to Thanksgiving for many people) we expect to see all the Christmas decorations?

Maybe it's because I love Christmas so much, but the blending of the holidays doesn't bother me at all. I feel like it heightens both. If I join Thanksgiving and Christmas, then I enter the Christmas season with a spirit of thankfulness and giving, focused on the blessing God has given me.

If we fight to separate the two completely, I'm afraid we'll start seeing Christmas as more of the hustle and bustle and presents and lights, instead of a celebration of the most precious gift of all.

The other thing is, that while Christmas Day doesn't occur for a whole month, the Advent season starts, usually, within a week of Thanksgiving. This year it will be a week and a half before the official start of the Christian Christmas season. That's still a very short time in the grand scheme of things.

How do you see it? Do the opening notes of Jingle Bells turn you into a Grinch if you hear them before the turkey is relegated to sandwich meat? (By the way, if you're looking for a few different songs for your Christmas playlist, check out my posts from last year on the Best Christmas Songs You've Never Heard.)

Do you hold off everything Christmas-y until after Thanksgiving? Does it bother you when others don't?


  1. "Bothers me" might be the wrong words, but I do think conflating the two leaves something out. Specifically: Advent. :)

    In Christian tradition, our major feasts (Easter and Christmas) are preceded by seasons of fasting and prayer (Lent and Advent), which we use to prepare our hearts for the great celebrations. I think the established tradition of quietness and abstinence before the feasts serves to highlight the great joy of Christ's incarnation and resurrection better than a frenzy of activity beforehand.

    I guess I wish most people at least knew what they were rejecting when they choose to celebrate the 30 days before Christmas as Christmas, rather than celebrating the 12 days after. On the theory that informed decisions are better decisions. If they know, and then decide they want to do it differently, that's fine. (Like your decisions to let the grateful spirit of Thanksgiving flow into your gratefulness for Christ's coming - you've thought about it and you're doing it for a reason - that makes sense to me.)

    But I realize most people aren't liturgical Christians, and I don't expect them to observe my traditions. I just think they're missing out. :)

  2. I think for a lot of Christians, including myself, Advent has become the lighting of the candles on the wreath, with a thoughtful reading or song. Everything else about Advent has, for many, fallen by the wayside.

    I think you are right, that we would be well-served to examine many of the older traditions and celebrations to see which, if any, we want to incorporate in our lives.

    I find it very interesting that Lent has survived so strongly while Advent has fallen by the wayside. Possibly all the other Christmas stuff has weakened our focus? Something to think about.

  3. You might be right about the reason Advent's fallen by the wayside. I also think it's just a milder season than Lent - the fast isn't as strict, and we tend to like extremes in our culture, I think.

    But I was also thinking, when I read your mention of the wreath and readings, "well, those are pretty good ways to celebrate it!" :) I read someone today pointing out that Advent's easy to celebrate because it's *supposed* to be spare and simple. Doing less is kind of the whole point - making space for prayer and thought and meditation.

    Maybe that's what our culture finds so hard. I know I do. That's why I need it, I think, because I'm *not* good at slowing down and praying more. :)

  4. A good Advent hymn is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Something I think is important to remember is not to worship Christmas, but to worship Christ the Savior every day of our lives.
    Thanks for this interesting post.