November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re enjoying this very special holiday with your family. From its birth in Pilgrim days, through its official designation as a holiday by Abraham Lincoln, and up to today, when some people rush from the table to go stand in line for Black Friday deals, Thanksgiving keeps adding more and more traditions. What began as a simple day to thank God for our blessings has expanded to include turkey with a whole buffet of required side dishes, the Macy’s Parade, football, and of course, reuniting with family members we see only once a year. Catching up with distant relations is a great reminder of just how deep our families’ roots go, and how far and wide the loving bonds of family reach. But this year, if you want to keep that warm, happy feeling alive all through the weekend, I have one piece of advice: DON’T bring up the election!

I'm glad to see that some retailers are finally starting to push back against the forward creep of Black Friday that was threatening to take over Thanksgiving Thursday. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a capitalist. I want retailers to make money, and shoppers to get good gift bargains. But that can wait a little while. Let’s first take some time to remember what’s really important, and to thank God for what we have before we rush out to buy more.

All this emphasis on battling other shoppers for the hottest gadgets reminds me of a story that a radio listener named Cindy from Ohio shared with me. Back in 1976, her then-husband was a student with a part-time job. She was working two jobs, and their combined incomes barely covered a $4 tree and $20 worth of toys for their daughter. One day, as Cindy was complaining about how depressed she was over all the expensive gifts she couldn't afford, a co-worker mentioned that she and her five young children weren’t having Christmas at all. She was going through a divorce. Her husband was in prison. She had no child support, no family. She couldn’t even afford a $4 tree. She skipped meals so her kids could eat, wore the same faded dress so they could have coats, and had to choose between paying for heat or rent. Her family had moved so many times, she'd told her children not to expect Santa because he wouldn't be able to find their house.

Suddenly, Cindy felt ashamed about her complaints. That night, she called up all her friends, family, co-workers and sorority sisters to enlist their help. On Christmas morning, her husband dressed as Santa, and he and her friends’ husbands drove a pickup loaded with food, clothes and toys to her co-worker's home. The stunned mother sat holding her new dress and crying, while her son excitedly jumped up and down, shouting, “Santa found our house!”

Cindy said it wasn’t until years later, after telling that story for the two-dozenth time, that it dawned on her: that was the Christmas when she'd felt depressed because she had “nothing to give.”

Any time you feel yourself slipping into a fit of shopping rage, I hope you'll think of this story and remember that Christmas isn't about the buying. It's about the giving. And Thanksgiving is about taking one day out of the year to count the many blessings we might not even realize we have.

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