You don’t have to be Thankful on Thanksgiving


Thursday is American Thanksgiving. It is a little late this year and people have used this an excuse to put up their Christmas trees and blare the holiday tunes. The schmultzy commercials have started and I may have already indulged in a Hallmark-esque movie or two. Spoiler Alert: The big city girl actually loves her hometown, the Inn/Bakery/Family Farm will make it after all and that hunky man is available, not a creeper, and completely smitten with her. I love all of them. And already people are telling me how to feel, and how those feelings should make me act, and how what I actually feel and actually want to do or say or think don’t really matter because it is THE HOLIDAYS.

While I would love for my big feelings and often inconvenient grief to take a vacation for “the holidays” that isn’t really how being a human being works, despite how hard we try. So let me be the first person, if the only person, to tell you that you don’t have to be thankful on Thanksgiving. You don’t. Yes it is good to give thanks, and yes gratitude often leads to joy, and yes these are good spiritual disciplines. But if you can’t muster that down to your toes thankfulness they are selling on TV, that is okay. You don’t have to feel that, and you don’t have to fake it.

While we are at it, you also don’t have to fake joy, or hope, or peace, or freaking holiday cheer if you can’t muster it. As it turns out, these things can’t be bought, but the hollow promise of them will be sold to you in a hundred ways every time you grace the aisles of Target. I know it is December and everything around you is Merry and Bright, but I just want you to know that you are allowed to be a whole person with complicated feelings and you don’t have to love every second of whatever forced family fun you genuinely want to do even if it might make you temporarily grumpy.

Yes December can be magical, and there are a million moments to be made. ButAndAlsoToo the holiday season often reminds us of what we don’t have, who is missing this year, or the wishes from years ago that still have yet to manifest. There are some years when we resonate more with the “weary world” part of the Christmas carol than the “rejoices” part. Life doesn’t stop being hard or difficult just because it is the holidays. Sometimes, the holiday season brings out all of those complicated feelings. That is okay too.

The world tells us that it isn’t okay to mix our emotions, that we can’t be happy and sad at the same time, that we can’t be grateful and also wish things were different, that we can’t be happy we get to spend a week with our family and also wish for a few hours of complete silence and no more activities. But you can have both. We live in a both/and kind of world. We have a both/and kind of Christmas story.

Mary gave birth to a baby perhaps away from her family, and then all these strange people started showing up! Within one of those visits some helpful and generous strangers let her know that she would need to run for her literal life. When the gospel of Luke says Mary pondered all these things in her heart, I cannot help but think it was ALL THE THINGS. I think it was wonder and terror. I think it was beauty and sorrow. I think it was the goodness of that glorious moment and maybe some wistfulness that her life would never be the same. I think God understood all that. I think Jesus grew up and got it too.

Complicated feelings about the holiday season are totally normal, and you aren’t the only one having them. It is just as valid celebration of the holiday season to sit in your car and look at the beautiful lights, and drink your peppermint mocha, and cry. This world is just so much to hold. The beautiful truth of it all can make your heart ache, and it isn’t because there is something wrong with you. Sometimes, all that holiday cheer makes you realize just how crappy this last year has been. It is okay to cuss about that. It is okay to get all your friends together to call the year a dumpster fire and toast to it being over and call it a holiday celebration.

Of course you feel lonely, or sad, or angry at the brokenness of the world. This time of year has a way of highlighting all of that by literally pretending it doesn’t exist. I know it feels like you are the only one with the sad holiday feels, but you are not. I know that people are asking you to sweep away the ashes and the hard things, stuff them in a closet and pretend like it is all glitter and joy. People are asking you to do that, but God is not. The world is telling you that everything is merry and bright, but Jesus is aware of the complicated nature of this world, and didn’t sweep it all away but rather joined us in it.

You don’t have to sweep it away either. God will meet you wherever you are. You don’t have to be thankful on Thanksgiving. You don’t have to be cheery for the holidays. You can be happy and sad. You can be full of joy and sorrow. You can be surrounded by people you love and also a little bit lonely. There is room for you, all of you for the holidays. Give yourself the gift of your whole self this year.