Thanksgiving and liturgical living

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Christmas decorations in Catherine Hall. Photo by Mary Kate Leonard

Modern society and culture today are incapable of waiting. Whether waiting for major life events or  more trivial matters, waiting is at least a frustrating inconvenience, and at most a necessary evil. 

This cultural attitude towards waiting extends to far more than the car line in front of a drive-through. Our attitude of instant gratification fostered by our culture extends itself to the way in which we celebrate our holidays. 

No greater example can be shown than that which exists in our culture surrounding Christmas. By Aug. 1, major retailers are proudly displaying their Christmas wares, and urging shoppers to purchase their Christmas decorations before prices rise. 

About a month ago I heard an ad on the radio for people to get their goods during this “shopping season,” as if the entire season of Christmas could be summed up in the mindless acquisition of goods.  

The day after Halloween begins the intense push towards Christmas. Christmas trees and lights are put up in houses, and Christmas music begins to play on the radio. Historically speaking, the push for Christmas shopping was a result of World War II. In order to make sure presents arrived safely to the boys on the front, people shipped their gifts weeks in advance. 

Yet World War II has come and gone, and the Christmas frenzy has become a fixture in our culture. Christmas remains weeks away, and Thanksgiving is glossed over as a rite of passage for Black Friday shopping and deals. 

There is a sort of cultural irony in the triumph of Black Friday over Thanksgiving itself. Aside from the stereotypical indulgence in food, it is not a holiday that our consumerist society can truly appreciate. 

As its very name suggests, it is meant to be a holiday which reflects on the blessings which we have in our lives. Practicing this sort of gratitude is the antidote towards the culture of instant gratification in which we have become so accustomed to as a society. Giving thanks flies in the face of the major retailers whose primary concern is to make a quick profit. 

Gratitude grounds us in the present moment, and makes us appreciate what is instead of always dwelling on what is not. It helps us to embrace the time we have, in between the change of seasons and holidays, which at the moment we are currently in. 

Hoping and dreaming for the future is good and is just as important to the development of our humanity as remaining in the present moment. But, we as a society so often forget the moment we have and replace it with the moment that we want to have.

I think part of this problem lies in the fact that our society lacks a robust common life and has no method of communal celebration of the changing seasons in life. The Catholic calendar provides this much needed rhythm to approaching life. We cycle through seasons of mourning and fasting, and of rejoicing and feasting. 

In between is found the often overlooked Ordinary Time. While it is indeed concerned with the ordinary minutiae of our lives as the name itself suggests, Ordinary Time helps us to make sense of both the fasting and the feasting. It places each season in their proper place, and helps us to fully enter into the present moment and the grace of God in our lives, wherever that might be. 

As we begin to wrap up the last few weeks of school and look forward to both Thanksgiving and Christmas break, I hope we can appreciate the in-between. I hope we can savor crunchy fall leaves and early November sunsets, the turquoise blue skies of the hum-drum days.

Let us embrace the season we are in with all of its quiet moments, full of wonder and Thanksgiving, so that we may embrace the joys of the Christmas season to come.

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