The holidays are a time to be grateful.
Although less blatant than Thanksgiving, it’s part of the Christmastime tradition. Secular families give thanks for their loved ones and their blessings. Families of a Christian bend partake in something old and sacred as they gather together around tables saying grace — in the moment, giving thanks for their food, but in the purpose of the holiday giving thanks for the birth of the son of God. Older still is the pagan tradition that once marked this season, people gathering in gratitude for the return of the sun.
Let us not forget this part of Christmas — or whatever midwinter holiday it is you choose to celebrate. Let us take time to be deeply grateful for those things in our world that have blessed us, and for those things that make the holiday we love what it is.
In the words of my grandfather, in some of my earliest Christmas memories, as he sat at the head of his warmly-lit holiday table: Let us give thanks.
. . .
To properly give thanks, we must start at the very basis, at the source of our sustenance.
Let us give thanks for the rich land upon which we grow our food. In this era of industrialized farming, with barely a fifth of America’s population living in rural areas, we don’t think about the land from which our food comes. We don’t take time to think about the dirt. This dissociation is a new phenomenon, and it’s an oversight — we forget that we need that dirt to survive. For millennia, earth was one of the most valuable commodities. The rich soil is our lifeblood. Pioneers risked their lives for it, immigrants crossed oceans for it, left their families and took the risk of never seeing them again for a piece of it.
We’ve been blessed by good dirt — and we’ve been blessed by the right to own it. From Locke’s writing on property rights — and his theory that working the land imbues it with effort and turns it into the property of the person who expended that effort — to the structuring of a society with a similar philosophy as its underpinning, people in our society have had the gift of property rights.
Property rights spark innovation. When we own something, we’re incentivized to put effort into improving it, because we get to reap all of the benefits. Our culture of private property and our social structure based on the principle of free markets has fostered a society rich in innovation and production. This system has allowed us to make the abovementioned drastic shift from an agrarian to an urban society — and enabled us to forget about the dirt in the first place (and allowed us to no longer live hand-to-mouth, relying on the direct fruits of our labor to survive).
Our society has vast amounts of industry. Goods and services have become cheaper and easier to produce.
As you sit down to open your gifts this holiday, take time to give thanks for this social structure we live in. It enabled nearly all of the gifts you’ll give and receive this holiday season to be created. They came into existence because it was in someone’s selfish interest to create them. The creation of those objects improved both the creator’s life and the purchaser’s. They arose in a culture of pure selfish innovation.
We live in a society of great abundance and richness, and that abundance comes into existence because of the freedom and the openness of our culture — a milieu that allows people to create and enrich their own lives as we’re naturally designed to do.
As you offer thanks to those who gave you your Christmas gifts, take time to acknowledge also that those gifts were purchased and exchanged on the free market — a phenomenon that allows the free passage of goods from places of abundance to places where they’re desired. The tradition of trade and giving runs deep — it’s older than the holiday itself. Trade routes and the act of exchange have been a constant for millennia.
Long before Christmas was ever celebrated, humans exchanged what they had for what they needed. In the centuries since the process has been refined, but the basic mechanics are the same.
Giving gifts was part of the original Christmas story. After the birth of Christ, wise men came to pay their respects to the child, and they bore with them gifts — gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. At the time, the latter two were precious commodities, as valuable as the first item on the list.
Now you can order 15ml of frankincense oil online for $7 and have it on your doorstep in two days. How the times have changed.
Human nature has remained the same in the intervening millennia between then and now, but the world we live in — the world we’ve built and been enabled to build — has drastically evolved. What rich lives we’re capable of living.
And last of all — but most certainly not least — as you celebrate the holiday, let us give thanks for the act of celebrating itself. Whatever you choose to celebrate — Hanukkah, Christmas, a secular observance of the solstice, or something else entirely — you have the religious freedom to do so. We live in a culture where we have the capacity to believe whatever we wish to believe, and practice however we wish to practice.
In whatever way feels sincere and right to you, give thanks for that too.
. . .
This holiday, give thanks for those around you whom you love and share this deeply human time of the year with. Give thanks for that which makes you what you are, and that which makes your life rich. Give thanks for the food on your table, the land upon which you’ve built your home, the gifts you exchange with those dear in your life. Give thanks that we live in a society that makes all of this richness possible.
And give thanks for the return of the light — because that’s ultimately what this holiday is about.
Merry Christmas, and the warmest wishes to you and yours. May this holiday season be filled with blessings and a million reasons to give thanks.
. . .