I felt oddly guilty on November 26, 2008. After fifty years of Thanksgiving Eve services, I was watching Santa get lit up.
Santa, in this case, is the big Santa lighted display that hangs on the side of a bank building in downtown Fort Wayne. On Thanksgiving Eve, the city has lighting ceremonies for Santa, for a community Christmas tree, for a massive wreath. They serve hot chocolate, the courthouse rotunda hosts singing groups, the Botanical Conservatory hosts reindeer, and thousands of people walk the streets.
For most of the previous fifty years, I had been at church on Thanksgiving Eve. In several different congregations, the order was usually the same. We would sing the handful of Thanksgiving hymns. We would read about thankfulness from the Bible, often from Psalms. We would hear a brief meditation about being thankful. In between the songs, we would have time for anyone who was feeling thankful to stand up and express that gratitude. New babies, comfort in the middle of death, job changes, new relationships were familiar topics. In every church, the same people would speak. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving Eve without them.
Following the service, people would talk. At one church, we always had pie. At others, we would just stand in the aisles and talk. People were home from college or out-of-town. It was the one time a year for some of these conversations.
I learned to speak publicly in these services. I would have this sense that I ought to be grateful. I’d be ready to say something and then we’d sing another song. So I’d wipe my palms, wait for a minute after the song, and then stand up. I’d speak, my parents would be proud, other people would be touched, and I’d have the sense of having performed my thankfulness well.
So on that night in November 2008, having moved to a new church that didn’t have Thanksgiving Eve services, I felt a little guilty watching Santa. I wasn’t performing my thanksgiving speech. In retrospect, I think I was relieved.
This is the first in a series of reflections on gratitude.