Lately I have been thinking about two very distinctly different memories of Christmas from my childhood. When I was very young my parents made quite a bit of money. My father, although uneducated, had started a carpet installation business and managed to land the contract for the largest housing complex being built at the time. I remember one year in particular when the tree was so packed with presents that we actually grew tired of unwrapping them.
A few years later, in one of my father's many impulsive quest for fulfillment, he gave it all up and bought a farm. It didn't take too long for the money to dwindle. I remember the first Christmas after the fact. No presents. I don't know if it was because there were really no funds, or if my parents were just so depressed they couldn't muster up the energy to make the effort. I know that there are programs out there to help get Christmas presents to children whose families are in need, but accepting charity was something my parents just didn't do. It was out of the question.
I guess looking back, I'm just puzzled at my own resilience as a child. I don't remember being crushed at the fact that there were no presents. I just remember that it was then that I came to an understanding of how dire our circumstances were. And I remember my parents misery. The downturn did eventually become an upturn for many a year afterwards. But our parents never did regain their original zeal for Christmas shopping. The bubble had burst.
Now, as an adult with two sons who are nearly grown, I have to say that Thanksgiving is the holiday I most look forward to. Yes I know that Christmas is and always will be special, the celebration of the birth of our Lord, the greatest gift of all. But we all lament the commercialism of Christmas as we continue to spend, spend, spend and run ourselves silly in search of that perfect gift.
But at Thanksgiving the focus is on how grateful we are - for family, for the table we are able to come to, for the abundance on it, and for the presence of God and His favor in our lives. We pray at our table, and talk about how much we appreciate one another and mean to each other. I talk to my sons about how, as a single mother, I could not have made it without the help of God.
I guess the reason I like Thanksgiving so much is that the focus is on the real gifts.