Pastor Jim Melvin
Although I saw a few Christmas trees going up before Halloween, for me the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. That’s when the joyful expectations start ramping up. We begin to look forward to holiday parties and gatherings. We prepare for travel or welcoming visitors into our homes and seeing people who have been absent from our lives for a while. We ponder the gifts that we will give and receive.
In my experience, the joyful expectations are equaled or exceeded by the dread of the chaos and stress that we are about to subject ourselves too. We wonder where we will find the time to pack more into our busy lives. We may be forced into spending time with people who we would just as soon avoid. Not to mention, how are we going to handle all of the extra expenses that come with the celebrating?
Here’s my laundry list of suggestions to help us not only survive but thrive through Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
1) Put the phones away. Holiday gatherings are a time to enjoy each other in real time. Consider having everyone deposit their phone in a basket – at least during dinner. The fact that this radical action seems nigh on to impossible is a sign of how addicted we are to our little screens. At the very least, have everybody silence their phones and keep them out of sight. Maybe come up with a catchy silence your phones announcement at the dinner table like they do in theaters or on the airplane. Good luck!
2) Everybody pitch in. I can remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning back in the good old days to the first smells of the turkey beginning to bake. My mom and aunts would slave in the kitchen all morning, serve everybody seated at the table while they seldom sat down, and wash the dishes and clean up while the menfolk retired to the living room to talk about important stuff and the kids played games. Maybe there were some things that weren’t so good about those old days. Make sure that you do your share and encourage everybody else to do the same including the kids.
3) “Be thee not a drunkard…but take thee a little wine for thy stomach.” (Ephesians 5:18 & 1Timothy 5:23) Wine and other spirits play a central role for many of us at holiday celebrations and dinners. Holiday toasts and good cheer contribute to the joyful atmosphere. But alcohol use also contributes to many domestic disputes and violence at holiday events. The abundance of alcoholic drinks at our gatherings is a particular hazard for those struggling with addiction. The Bible counsels moderation. Simple steps like not starting to drink too early, providing alternative beverages, and offering designated drivers for those who overindulge can help keep our celebrations happy and safe. Consider an alcohol-free Thanksgiving this year.
4) Don’t talk about religion and politics. It is no secret that we live in divisive times. Differences in political and religious points of view can create serious divisions within families and among even the best of friends. While it’s important that we engage each other in honest and open conversation about important issues, holiday gatherings, particularly around the dinner table, might not be the best time for political and moral debates. Our emotions are already amplified this time of year. Focus instead on positive and personal topics that will unite rather than divide. When somebody presses our buttons it’s okay to back away from arguments with words like, “Let’s get together and talk about that later.”
5) Honor the empty chair. Many of us will have experienced the death of a family member or loved since we last gathered. The void opened up by their absence can cast a pall over the celebration. Loss and grief are inevitable and are best dealt with openly. Acknowledge the loss and provide an opportunity for everyone to deal with their feelings. Tell stories and show pictures, shed some tears, and name your lost saints in prayer. Most of all, give thanks for what they meant in your life.
6) Give thanks. Speaking of giving thanks, especially at Thanksgiving, take some time to name the things that you are grateful for. Some families go around the table or the room before they eat and have everyone speak aloud one thing that they are thankful for from the previous year.
7) Say a little prayer. Whether or not you’re religious, physically connecting by holding hands around the table for a prayer provides a spiritual connection that can put the HOLY in HOLI-day. The prayer can be as simple and inclusive as “We give thanks for our family and friends who are gathered here and for how we bless each other’s lives. We thank you for the food we are about to receive and for the loving hands who have prepared it and serve us. Amen.” If nobody feels comfortable praying off the cuff, write it down and read it.
8) Take a hike. Does the following sound familiar? You eat too much, you drink too much, and then you fall into a coma in front of the T.V. The next morning you feel groggy and guilty. Adding a little exercise to the holiday menu can help. After dinner, before you wash that stack of dishes and greasy pans, have everyone put on their coats and walking shoes and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Walking is not only healthy for the body; it is a stimulant for conversation. It will make everybody feel better.
9) Lower your expectations. We want our holiday gatherings to be perfect. They never are. Not everybody will show up on time. Not everyone will be on their best behavior. Somebody’s favorite dish will be missing or cooked wrong. All your problems won’t magically go away. Start out by thinking of the holiday as just another day. Then all of the good special stuff will be, as we say, gravy.
10) Invite the lonely and less fortunate. Your holiday may be almost perfect. That’s not true for everyone. Be on the lookout for the lonely and the less fortunate around you. Invite them to dinner and lavish your hospitality upon them. In blessing them, your whole family will be blessed. Or, forego your own dinner and volunteer as a family to serve in a community meal.
And most importantly, don’t burn your turkey!!!