Contentment Friday: A Meaningful Tradition to Replace “Black Friday”

Last year I was honored to share one of my family’s most important traditions on She Lives Free. This year I’d like to share it again in hopes that it catches on amidst the craziness of the ever more commercialized holiday season. 

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Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, and my laptop finally decides its long slow death march is finally coming to an end…  right as I sat down to make my deadline for submitting this very blog for publishing. Lovely. So we pile the family into the car and head over to Best Buy, to buy the family computer we were planning to acquire in the next week or so anyways. As we make our way to the front of the store, what should come into view? A line of patrons and their tents, already camped out for the upcoming Black Friday sale. My heart actually dropped in my chest. Really? THIS is what we’ve come to now? Not only are we opening more and more stores on Thanksgiving day and beckoning them away from their family tables with $9.99 Elmo dolls and discounted Playstations, now we are setting up metal crowd control fencing to contain the line of people camping out in a parking lot days before the sale even starts? It was all I could do but desperately hope my kids didn’t ask about what they were seeing, cause I was tempted to tell them that some very silly grownups were playing “lets pretend we’re on an explorer expedition” and had brought their fun campsite toys to add to the overall effect. And Im not sure how convincing that really would have been.

You see, my children don’t know about the insanity now known as “Black Friday.” Crazy, I know, but my husband and I made a choice some years ago that we would commit to abstain from Black Friday and the total circus it’s become. I hated the idea that we would gather over a Thanksgiving table on Thursday, and profess our great gratitude for all God has given us… and then run out the door so soon after in an panicked rush to “buy all the things!” It simply doesn’t compute for me. So we decided that Black Friday would cease to exist for us, and in its place a new holiday was born: Contentment Friday.

Contentment Friday isn’t just a sweet little term we’ve coined to excuse missing out on the cheapest shopping of the year. No, Contentment Friday is quite possibly second only to Christmas in terms of holiday importance for our little family. It’s a BIG deal around here. The basic premise is simple: in order to focus on our hearts and minds on the idea of contentment, we abstain from spending money in any way, shape, or form on that Friday after Thanksgiving, and we instead fill the day with family centered activities in our home. We stock up on all groceries and essentials in advance (to ensure we never have any reason for unexpected spending,) we block off the date on our work calendars as a holiday, and we prepare to spend the whole day celebrating as a family. This year will be no exception. We’ve bought cinnamon rolls to bake for breakfast, stocked up with some great new board game options, made plans to cook our favorite bacon appetizer and devour it during a family screening of Stars Wars: A New Hope (my 5 year old is especially excited about that one,) and we have all the supplies to bake sugar cookies to frost and decorate. We never feel like we’re missing out, because Contentment Friday is usually one of the fun filled days of the holiday season for us.

contentmentfridayquoteOn Saturday, we continue the fun celebrating our official opening day for the Christmas season. By abstaining from anything Christmas related while we’re still focusing on a season of gratitude and contentment first, we get to experience a whole day dedicated to welcoming the yuletide season into our home. This is the day each year when the Christmas tree goes up, the holiday music finally gets played, the decorations come out, and those great claymation classics like “The Year Without a Santa Clause” are screened. And Im pretty sure we drink more cocoa then the rest of the year combined. Best of all, our hearts are truly prepared for the fullness of Christmas’ joy because we’ve really given heed to the gratitude from which it springs. Simply by being intentional in recognizing all we have to be thankful for, we find ourselves content with the life we already lead, and this in turn births an abundance of joy in our hearts – the very joy that the Christmas season should ultimately be about: not a quest for more things, not a stressful march to simply get through this season with what sanity we can manage, but a season of joy to the world and peace to all men.

My heart’s dream would be to see Contentment Friday take hold in more families then just our own. Imagine the impact it would have on the retail world if even half of Black Friday demand just simply went away? There wouldn’t be a need for crowd control fencing or a website to track the Black Friday death toll each year (oh, how I wish that wasn’t a real thing,) and perhaps some stores wouldn’t even be able to justify calling in all those of employees away from their families without all these customers clamoring for their attention. Because the hidden truth of Black Friday is this – it’s not the retailers’ faults; we have nobody but ourselves to blame. If the demand wasn’t there, the stores wouldn’t have a reason to continue the craziness any longer. So the power is ultimately ours. Nothing battles the current of consumerism more than the value of contentment. When our hearts are focused on being content, we see the virtues of the life we already live and the numerous blessings we already possess – and suddenly no amount of discount seems high enough to give that up to go sleep in a Best Buy parking lot.

 

The War on Thanksgiving

War on ThanksgivingThe War on Christmas is getting its yearly spin in the news cycle, from the rampage over red cups to the horror over “happy holidays.” Every year these tirades take over our national dialogue once more; it’s as predictable as clockwork.

Yet we never hear about the War on Thanksgiving.

Where is the hashtag campaign complaining not that Starbucks isn’t Christmassy enough, but rather that its Christmassy the minute of Halloween’s end?

Where is the outrage that a holiday once hallmarked by a family gathered for dinner is now celebrated in the parking lot at Best Buy, holding place in the Black Friday line up?

Where are the news pundits railing about a national culture tearing away more and more at the traditions of a holiday we once held dear – a holiday once marked by conservative values like gratitude, contentment, and the closeness of family?

While the world is debating the merits of this supposed War on Christmas, Thanksgiving is waving the white flag and quietly succumbing to its defeat. And yet no one seems to care.

What can we expect to teach a generation who are growing up in a world where Thanksgiving has all but been replaced with a season that can only be described as “pre-Christmas?” How can we ask them to eschew a culture of entitlement when the Christmas toy catalogs are showing up the week of Halloween and commercials are beckoning them to make lists to Santa before the leaves have even left their fall branches? Are we really prepared to raise children in a culture where a season devoted to the art of gratitude has been replaced instead with a wanton consumerism that threatens to consume us all?

Instead of adding to the tirades about “holiday trees” and politically correct window displays, consider taking a stand instead for Thanksgiving. What better way to put Christ back into Christmas than to spend November focusing on gratitude and preparing our hearts for the season yet to come. The way to experience the fullness of Emannuel, God With Us, is to experience the season of anticipation before Christmas comes on the scene. Thanksgiving prepares us for the coming King – where hearts lined full of thankful prayers take the place of a manger filled with straw. When we skip over Thanksgiving, we find ourselves unprepared to receive the holy child, as if we have no room in the inn of our hearts and minds.

Forget the War on Christmas. Who will fight back for Thanksgiving?

I Speak for the Turkeys

Last fall I had the amazing opportunity to share my heart over on Delight and Be. As the calendar rolled over to the 1st of November this morning I found myself urged to share these same thoughts as we dive into the holidays once more. 

It was the day after Halloween and I found myself standing squarely in the middle of my living room letting out a silent scream. A Christmas commercial. Amidst the discarded hulk mask and superhero cape and the crinkled up wrappers from last nights snicker bar binge it was all I could do not to pull out my own hair and curse all things merry and bright. A Christmas commercial – heralding all that was snowy and shiny and on sale for only $19.99.

Im one of THOSE people, you know the type – we are the grinches who complain about the stores decorating too early or who gripe about Starbucks bringing out the red cups in November. Im the Scrooge who loudly declares a moratorium on any Christmas music while any of the leaves are clinging red and orange to their branches; the one who scares her children with threats of bad reports to Santa if they so much as think of starting their wish lists before the turkey and cranberry sauce have been reduced to leftover sandwiches. If you met me in November you’d be convinced that I had experienced some sort of horridly traumatic Christmas past that converted me into an avid rejecter of all things remotely yuletide.

Im going to steal a page from my children’s Dr. Seuss obsession and appropriate the catchphrase of the Lorax for a minute. Except instead of the trees? I speak for the turkeys. Now before you roll your eyes and click that little red x in the corner of this screen, let me clarify that Im not speaking for the turkeys in the picketing for PETA and buying a tofurkey sense. By all means, when it comes to turkeys go ahead and shoot ‘em, pluck ‘em, and roast ‘em up nice and juicy. Im allll for turkeys… when they are covered in gravy that is. Lots and lots of gravy. No, I speak for the turkeys as the adopted mascots of Thanksgiving, which in my humble opinion is the single most important holiday of the year – and also the most under appreciated.

I will go so far as to say that without a Thanksgiving we absolutely unequivocally wouldn’t have any Christmas at all. Aaannnd I know what you’re thinking: she’s gone and lost it now. The baby Jesus couldn’t be laid in His manger and the shepherds wouldn’t hear the angels sing unless… the pilgrims came over on the Mayflower and had a feast with the Indians?

Yep.

Well, sort of.

Ok not at all. But there IS a point to my madness, I swear.

Image Credit: Grace & Salt

You see Thanksgiving is a holiday that boils down to only one thing: gratitude. Underneath the turkeys and the pilgrims and the bundles of wheat on our perfect Pinterest mantles, Thanksgiving is in its simplest form is an entire season wholly dedicated to stepping back from a culture that’s saturated with discontentment and an all out pursuit of more for the sake of more, and calls us instead to look at the abundance we have already been blessed with and utter a prayer of gratitude for having more than we could possibly deserve. Thanksgiving is a season of “thank you’s” in a world of “but I want more’s.” It’s the epitome of counterculture at its finest.

And when the final bite of stuffing is consumed and the last piece of turkey has been placed in the final leftovers sandwich, a new season emerges: Christmas, the season of joy to the earth and goodwill to all men. And its here that we find the thread that seamlessly pulls us from one holiday into the next: because the root of our joy? It has to be gratitude. Without the fertile fall season of gratitude we can never reap our Christmas’ joy. For Christmas depends on Thanksgiving the same way the crops in the fields depend on nutrient rich soil and abundant rains to bring them to life for the harvest. It is only in a heart of gratitude that the seeds of joy can take root, and its only by watering them regularly with prayers of thanksgiving that joy can thrive and grow bring forth something new and beautiful in our lives.

To truly receive the joy of Christmas it is essential to dive in fully and embrace the season of Thanksgiving with our whole hearts. To begin to make room for the presents the yuletide season brings, we must first spend time emptying ourselves onto the altar of gratitude, recognizing the overabundance we’ve already been given. For it simply wouldn’t be Christmas without Thanksgiving. The world around us may try to hurry us along, beckoning us across its ramshackle bridge straight from the halloween candy right into a Christmas tree farm and long lists to Santa. Don’t go my friends. Take the long way – under the falling leaves of red and orange, through the fields of golden wheat being brought in for the harvest, and by the long table of abundance shared with those we hold most dear as we remember the incredible blessing of even having these people to walk life’s journey with. Take a stand against the “Christmas Creep” and build up those boundaries around a season increasingly taken for granted. Speak for the turkeys.

And don’t forget the gravy.