Thanksgiving: With Or Without The Turkey

What Does Thanksgiving Mean To You?

Thanksgiving is a special time of year for a lot of reasons.  For some it’s the launch of the holiday season.  These people know that when the turkey dinner is over the shopping season begins.  For them, Thanksgiving is just the prelude to the real holiday– Black Friday.  They find joy in the discovery of gifts (and bargains) for themselves and their loved ones.

For others, Thanksgiving is a day brimming over with memories and traditions.  Maybe it’s Dad’s fabled attempts to carve the turkey, or Aunt Alice’s notorious rock-hard dinner rolls.  Perhaps it’s cousin Jolie’s sweet potato casserole with the secret ingredient, or Grandma’s famous pumpkin pie made from that passed-down-in-the-family-for-generations recipe. 

Brighten The Corner Where You Are

My Nana was a big part of my childhood Thanksgivings.  Her family was so large that no one had a house big enough to fit everyone, so my earliest memories of Thanksgiving were not in a home, but a church basement!  Nana would gather the family there and dinner would be cooked in the church kitchen.   We’d eat at two long rows of tables in the fellowship hall, along with all the aunts and uncles and inlaws and cousins, and sometimes nonrelated guests as well.  It was a pretty rowdy gathering!

I  lived with Nana and Pop during part of my teenage years, as well as my college days.  Many years later Nana would come to reside with us.  She lived to be almost 102, and I remember that one of her favorite hymns was a seldom-heard oldie called “Brighten The Corner Where You Are.”

That’s good advice for the holiday season (and the rest of the year as well). 

You probably have your own favorite Thanksgiving memories. 

But what if these traditions have changed? That special family member who passed away, a move across country, financial worries or other circumstances– have these changed the way Thanksgiving looks this year? How can you remember the holiday with love when you or some of your family members hurt so bad that you can barely cook a can of soup? How can you share your faith when you feel faithless this year due to loss or another situation?

If you’re finding yourself in survival mode, wondering where all the joy went, the first thing you may need to do is change your focus.

First, Focus On God

In the midst of the food, football, and shopping frenzy, it’s all too easy to forget the reason for the season.  Thanksgiving is a day to remember the goodness of God.  The Bible has a lot to say about giving thanks to God.  Here are just a few of those verses:

  • “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!  His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).  We live in a broken, sin-filled world where bad things and losses happen.  But always remember we have a good God who is always there for us.  His love never fails, and He can get us through any crisis.
  • “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:8).  Take a deep breath.  Now let it out slowly.  Every breath we breathe is a gift of God.  Food, water, shelter, clothing, family, friends– these and so much more are all blessings from a heavenly Father who dearly loves you.  He has indeed done wonderful things!
  • “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18).  It’s important to note that God doesn’t ask us to thank Him for all circumstances.  He certainly doesn’t expect that.  But He does expect us to be thankful in whatever situation we find ourselves in, knowing that He will take care of all our needs.
  • “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;  make known among the nations what he has done” (I Chronicles 16:8).  Being grateful for all that God has done is one of the ways we shine His light to a world that desperately needs Him.

So spend some time this Thanksgiving actually giving thanks to the great and mighty God who has given so much to you this year.

Second, Focus On Others

Sometimes the thing that we need the most is the thing we need to give away to someone else. Don’t be timid to reach out to others this season. You never know who really needs the love and fellowship during this time of year. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to do that because there is always someone hurting that needs a kind face or an act of love and kindness shown towards them.  Even a simple card in the mail can turn someone’s day around.

You might consider doing some volunteer service at a local organization that ministers to the needy.  See what needs they have, and be a blessing to them as they bless others.  (A little tip:  many organizations actually get swamped with volunteers on Thanksgiving Day, so consider offering help at a time when they really need it.  Ask them what works for them).  Serving others is a great way to make the holiday more meaningful.

Thanksgiving is great time to share that meal with a neighbor, friend, or church member. Get together with family and think about who you could share a meal with. There may be a widow in the church that will be experiencing the first holiday alone. Ask God what you can do and see how He invites you to show love this year.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that people need the love of Christ more than ever during the holidays.

Third, Focus On The New

You may have suffered losses and setbacks this year.  You may have experienced changes or circumstances that make it impossible to celebrate Thanksgiving the way you once did.  But instead of mourning what cannot be, consider starting some new traditions.

My wife and I have two sons, but for several years now they have been unable to be with us for Thanksgiving.  Because of her health, my wife is no longer able to cook the Thanksgiving feast she once did.  So Thanksgiving has changed for us as we’ve grown older.  Since we can’t celebrate the way we used to, we’ve started a new, nontraditional tradition– we have our Thanksgiving feast at our favorite Chinese restaurant!  True, we don’t have the turkey and stuffing– but we don’t have the dirty dishes, either! 

Get creative and think of a different way you can make the holidays special again.  Maybe new is just what you need this year.

 The important thing is to spend some time giving thanks to God.  And the second important thing is to consider how you can share the love of God with someone else.  If you succeed in those two things, you truly will have a happy Thanksgiving.


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1 thought on “Thanksgiving: With Or Without The Turkey”

  1. Another great set of thoughts Tim. Thank you.


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