When I was a child my family would sit around the table after our Thanksgiving meal and hand out five toothpicks for each member of the family. Each of us would then go around the table and name out five things that we were thankful for in our lives and each time that we would name out something, we would have to set down a toothpick. After this traditional ritual was finished, we would clean up our dinner plates and spend the rest of the day enjoying each other’s company. Our hearts would be filled with thankfulness not just for our lives, but because we had each other.
Alas, time marches on. I grew up and moved out of my family’s house, and I discovered the incredible deals that happened on “Black Friday.” Because I didn’t have a lot of money, I would save up for months, scraping together whatever I could spare. My new Thanksgiving ritual would be after almost enjoying a celebratory Thanksgiving frozen pizza, I would rise early the next morning and go Christmas shopping for my family so that I could afford gifts that year. No matter how poor I was, I still always found a way to get my family Christmas gifts.
This year, after volunteering for kitchen duty to help feed the homeless, I decided to make my way down to New Jersey so that I could see my sister and go shopping when the sales began. Unlike all of the other years where I would be excited as I headed out to enjoy some Black Friday shopping, this year was different. I guess you could say that I changed.
Instead of looking at all of the stuff that I could buy, I looked at the shoppers waiting outside in long lines anxious and restless for stores to open. With excited anticipation, they spoke to one another about everything they planned on buying for themselves. Not once did I hear anyone mention doing any charitable act for a child who won’t get gifts this year. They spoke about these items, these “things” as if they needed them to survive, looking nervously at the people standing in front of them in the line, while openly expressing the hope that the store won’t run out of stock before they can get their new “toy.”
It occurred to me then that Thanksgiving is no longer a holiday to remember how grateful we are for what we have in our life. Instead it has become a holiday preying upon peoples’ wallets and fears. We are drawn in by a few “deals” and creeping a head start earlier and earlier every year in fear that the next shopper will get a deal that we will miss out. We are already a society where our insecurities are manipulated so that we crave what we don’t have. We are made to feel “less than” because our smart phone isn’t the latest model, that our television isn’t the biggest yet as thin as a playing card or that our kids aren’t wearing the overpriced sneaker of the athlete of the week. Now on the Thanksgiving Day, the one day in the year specifically set aside where we are supposed to be thankful, we now fill it with fear, avarice and even violence. This herd mentality of fear and acquisitiveness is so great that even lives are lost from people being trampled and crushed as the doors of retails open, and for what? To find that item that you have been wanting for half price and you could have bought yesterday and will likely be able to buy again after Christmas? A human life is worth that?
While children are going hungry in the world, we live in a society that has taken the one day a year to be grateful for what we have been extremely fortunate to be given and corrupted it with materialism and greed. We have become prisoners to “want”, always wishing for what we don’t have and when we finally get it, we forget it in the haze of memory and desire something else.
I think we as a society should take a step back and evaluate our how we live our own lives. We have so much to be thankful for and we don’t need the newest cell phone or biggest T.V. Instead of wasting our money on an item that will collect dust in six months, why not use some of that extra money to buy a homeless person a meal or buy a family in need some food?
There are so many good things that we can do with our lives. Carelessly spending, constantly wanting more, materialistic and beyond, isn’t living a life of gratitude but instead is living a life of greed. Be thankful for what the universe has set in front of you. Stop looking at what you don’t have and start seeing what you do have. Once you do that, you will be surprised at how abundant your life actually is. If you live in the United States, I guarantee you your life is better than most. Take a moment, reflect and be thankful.