Holding on to gratitude after Thanksgiving

I have never been a Black Friday shopper. I have good friends who are experts — combing sales papers before the big day, strategizing intricate plans around opening times, traffic patterns and doorbuster sales, getting in line early (which these days seems to be right after Thanksgiving dinner) and going all night and into the next day.

I usually prefer to relax at home in my turkey-and-dressing-induced lethargy and avoid the crazy crowds and the break-neck pace. But I am always fascinated by this cultural phenomenon and a little bit tempted to take advantage of the deals.

It seems as if Black Friday is the entry point into a season that feels out of control. In the span of 24 hours or less, we move from giving thanks for our blessings and our abundance to joining a rat-race to get more, prepare more, do more and spend more.

And when it’s all said and done, many of us are left with gifts to return or to make space for, looming debt and the empty feeling that something has passed us by.

How did we find ourselves in that place? What does it say about us that we jump so quickly from a season of giving thanks to a season of trying to cram more stuff into our lives?

It makes me wonder what our holiday seasons might look like if we had spent more time around those Thanksgiving tables reflecting on and celebrating all that we really are grateful for.

We may remember that we have enough sweaters already, and that our children have more toys than they can play with. We may recognize that our loved ones don’t really want another wrapped trinket, but would rather be given time spent with us or an experience that will turn into a special memory.

When we begin from a place of gratitude, we may find ourselves spending less on the meaningless stuff and more on the kinds of gifts that really make a difference in the world.

Perhaps the annual necktie for your uncle could become a gift to his favorite charity in his honor. Maybe your kids could pick out one less toy for themselves and choose one for a child in need.

Simplify the party fare this year so that a Christmas meal for the homeless could be bought instead. For those gifts that must be purchased, why not buy a fair trade item so that the low-income artisans who make them can receive a just price for their work?

It’s natural and good to want to give something to our family and friends out of love as we celebrate this season. But the best gifts may not be not more stuff.

The best gift we have to offer is our time. Time to bake cookies with the grandchildren. Time to sing carols to an elderly friend at the nursing home. Time to make the present that turns into a cherished family heirloom. Time to come up with a gift that is really meaningful and honors its recipient. Time to give presence that will be lasting and memorable and not simply presents that are disposable.

These are the kinds of gifts that I am the most grateful for when I receive them, and they are the kinds of gifts that are given from a place of gratitude.

As you make the transition from the Thanksgiving season to prepare for Christmas, hold on to that gratitude and let it inform and transform your Christmas celebrations as well.

After all, gratitude is something to celebrate in all seasons.

The Rev. Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.