Thanksgiving is over, and now comes Christmas!
Every year I hear a lot of complaint that Thanksgiving is a thing that gets lost in the shuffle between Halloween and Christmas, and that Thanksgiving should be its very own thing with no Christmas trappings of any kind allowed until Black Friday at the earliest. But to be honest, I don’t agree, and the reason why has to do with how we structure our year, how we see time, and how we mark the passage of days.
Human culture has always structured its years around annual events, like planting time, harvest time, full moons, solstices and equinoxes, and the like. These events formed the basis of the earliest liturgical calendars of our religions, and feasts and festivals would accrue around them. Perhaps the most famous of these long festivals these days is the month-long fasting celebrated by Islam as Ramadan. These types of celebratory events used to unfold over multiple days. The Olympic Games were a festival. So too, once, was Christmas: the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” refers to Christmas not as a singular holiday but as a festival, one that took twelve days to unfold. Twelve days of celebration, of feasting, of prayer, of reflection.
Now, our American society seems on one hand to want to limit celebrations to a single unit of time, one holiday and only one at a time, but on the other hand open itself up to celebrations that take place over time. We seem to want, in other words, a singular holiday and a festival, but we don’t approach it this way, do we? No, we come to the Christmas “season” like a time for lots of demands on our time: there’s cooking and cleaning and shopping to be done, and there are parties and special church services and the Christmas play and yada yada yada. All of these could be seen as trappings of a festival, but since we try to limit our celebrations to one holiday, we more see these things as items to be checked off a to-do list, required preparatory motions to be endured before we can take our one day off to celebrate, feast, pray, and reflect before getting on with the appointed industry of our lives.
I think we need to recalibrate our approach to and expectation of Christmas. I think we need to see this entire time of year as a festival, and I think it’s fine to posit Thanksgiving as the beginning of this festival. It just doesn’t make sense to me to cordon off Thanksgiving as its very own thing, independent of and separated from Christmas. I’d rather have our great Christmas Festival begin with Thanksgiving, a great day of feasting, and then extend over the however-many-days-there-are between that at the 25th of December…and then extend it right to the 1st of January. Instead of getting upset every year that Thanksgiving is “eclipsed” by Christmas, let’s approach it in the same spirit, because really…shouldn’t we do that anyway? It seems to me the emotional fabric of both days is very similar, and the two days are close together.
So let’s have Santa and the turkey at the same table.