The Habersham School is a PK3 – 12 private Classical Christian school in Savannah, GA.
by Jason Mehl: Upper School Humanities Teacher
I spent my first Thanksgiving in Uganda camping with British and American missionaries near one of Uganda’s natural wonders, Sipi Falls. While hiking down to the waterfall through coffee trees and balmy foliage, we talked about our American holiday by comparing it to Christmas.
We were aware of the obvious theological distinctions. We were missionaries who had left our homes to use our humble talents and imperfect lives attempting, through our university teaching jobs, to share the mysteries of the Gospel with our new neighbors in Uganda. We knew why Advent and Nativity were more spiritually significant than the last Thursday of November. We understood that no other country on earth picked a day (at best) to rest among family and friends and give thanks for many blessings or (at worst) to gather with other aggressive bargain hunters to sit around and watch the Lions play while carb-loading in preparation to fight against friends and neighbors over discounted electronics and appliances.
The discussion was more casual conversation than anthropological research, and there was no consensus reached regarding the comparative cultural value of Thanksgiving, foreign or domestic. But it was when I began to understand the value of sentimental value.
My previous three Novembers were spent in grad school in Chicago where I read and wrote almost without ceasing, producing work and honing my personal aesthetic. In casual discussions among thinking friends and colleagues, I heard the words “sentimental” and “precious” applied negatively to the work of artists I admired—singers, writers, painters. I defended those works—not arguing that they were not sentimental or precious, but that they were valuable—even brilliant—as they met emotional needs of their audience and encouraged them to look deeper for more. There was a great deal of sentimental art that did not encourage exploration or introspection, but there was a great deal that did, and I thought it was unfair to dismiss art as poor art simply on the grounds that it made someone feel something positive.
If we love Thanksgiving, it is for sentimental reasons. There is important American cultural history worth remembering and re-telling, but there is no eternal, cosmic reality connected to the last Thursday in November. However, if you love Thanksgiving, that is a love that should be dignified and cultivated. Maybe it’s connected to the smells, the hugs, the faces, the laughs, the sweaters, the napkins, the candles, the way you prefer cranberries, the way you prefer potatoes, the way you prefer gravy, the green bean casserole, the parade, the dog show, the blankets, the warm mugs, the fresh tree and stale decorations, the mystical period of time—between three seconds or three hours—during which you are unmeasurably grateful for the Detroit Lions.
Don’t dismiss that value. Don’t let anyone else dismiss that value—it is love. Breathe it in deeply. Thank God for all of it. Recognize that there are people who don’t have that love or the tools to help them cultivate it—maybe they used to, and they lost it—maybe they can’t access it this year. Ask God how to share the love with those people, with your neighbor. Ask God to help you continue to see each Thanksgiving as an appetizing taste of true rest and peace, inviting you to enjoy and share love, while also marking the beginning of Advent—the countable days before the longer, more enduring rest and peace of Christmas, the foundation upon which stands the global hope of all humanity for eternal, perfect worship, peace, feasting, and rest.