Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Thanksgiving Tree and the Virtue of Gratitude

On Facebook today, my friend Caitlin posted this picture:

It's a "thankful tree." If you look closely at it, you can see things like "music" and "Jesus." I imagine these are things members of Caitlin's family are particularly thankful for.

Something like this is a very good idea, for many reasons.

Firstly, Christmas has burst the bonds of December and expanded all the way to the day after Halloween, as satirized by one of the Simpsons Halloween episodes I saw many years ago. I remember when I was a kid seeing Thanksgiving decorations in a store (I think it was the East Cobb K-Mart, which is now a Sears), but that might have been over twenty years ago. More recently, I was shopping for a Halloween costume and saw Santa stuff in the Wal Mart. That's absurd. Halloween is October's big holiday, Thanksgiving is November's, and Christmas (or Hanukkah, if applicable) is December's.

Secondly, gratitude is a virtue many people have forgotten. Much of the election campaign hinged on complaining about our unemployment rate, which is significantly lower than countries like Spain, Greece, and to a lesser degree France. Even if one doubles it based on the idea those who have given up looking for work aren't being counted, we're still better off than Spain and Greece.

(This is not heartless sniping at the unemployed. I know from personal experience how much being unemployed sucks. My point is that we need to keep things in perspective. Look at how bad things were during the Great Depression.)

One common expression in the United States is, "God bless America," never mind that by any objective standard, God has blessed America to a rather massive degree in terms of both material wealth and personal freedom and we really ought to be thanking Him for the billions of blessings we enjoy.

(You don't have to be a Christian or even a believer in any kind of active God to believe gratitude is a good thing. Someone who is demanding and never satisfied is going to have a much more problematic life than someone more inclined to contentment and gratitude. And they're going to be much, much more annoying, like Eric Cartman. And on both an individual and a national level, it leads to living beyond one's means and the resulting problems.)

Practicing a tradition like a "thankful tree" serves two purposes. Firstly, it provides a visible marker of the Thanksgiving holiday and serves as a stand, however humble, against the overreach of Christmas. Secondly, it's an exercise in remembering all one's many blessings.

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