Marsha and I flew home on Saturday from our Journeys of Paul trip. We had been gone almost two weeks, just after being gone for a week to the Council of Bishops meeting, so we were glad to arrive at the Indianapolis airport. To my surprise, we encountered a large (and beautiful) Christmas tree in the airport’s atrium, and I found myself saying to Marsha, “Have we been gone so long that we missed Thanksgiving?”

Sometimes it feels that way in our U.S. culture where Christmas sales and decorations start earlier and earlier each fall. Sometimes it feels like Thanksgiving gets pushed out of the way so that we can move on to Christmas. There was even an article in the Indianapolis Star on Sunday lamenting that “Black Friday” sales on the day after Thanksgiving have been diminished by the earlier sales season for Christmas.

While Thanksgiving is not technically a religious holiday, or at least it is not a Christian holiday, I still sense that we face a spiritual loss if we miss Thanksgiving in the midst of our rush to get to Christmas. There is something about a time of gratitude that makes us more ready to celebrate the Christ gift. Such a time of being thankful helps to put our lives into perspective before we enter the mad rush of commercialism which has characterized the pre-Christmas season in America. Before we start to make our “wish lists” it really helps to prepare our “gratitude lists.”

I remember many Thanksgiving gatherings at my parents home, when my mother would prepare an enormous meal and the table would be loaded with special dishes. But before we would eat, and even before I would be asked to offer the prayer, either Dad or Mom would invite each person in the family – especially the younger grandkids – to name something for which we were thankful. Those statements of gratitude were never trite, and in fact the youngest of the children present would often share the most profound truths, such as “I am thankful for parents who love me.” Only after each person offered some words of gratitude were we allowed to dive into the meal.

Maybe that kind of simple act of naming our blessings – literally naming our blessings – is what we all need this year. 2011 has been a tough year for many people, and it would be easy to skip right over Thanksgiving with either complaints or with Christmas wishes. Maybe now is the time to be grateful for those blessings we already have.

I’m glad to be home, because I don’t want to miss Thanksgiving this year.