#givethanks + American Thanksgiving ≠ Worldwide Church
I was born in the US, but haven’t lived there in twenty some-odd years. I’m not an ex-pat, I’m an immigrant to a different country. And like many immigrants, I brought some of my traditions with me. American Thanksgiving is among those traditions.
Thanksgiving has always been my favourite holiday. When I was a child, I loved catching up with my cousins and listening to my parents and aunts and uncles laughing and talking. I loved eyeing the pies and wondering which one -or two- from which I might be allowed to secure a small slice. Later, as a college student far from home, I enjoyed participating in the Thanksgivings of generous friends, and as a YSA, I loved volunteering at a foodbank sponsored by the NAACP, even when I went home to a dinner of microwave popcorn.
One memorable time, I was invited to Thanksgiving on the Wednesday, or day before the official Turkey day. At that time, I was newly divorced and living in San Diego. My friend’s sister was visiting from another state, and in order to get the most affordable flight back, she was flying out Thursday. So my friend, her spouse, her child, her sister and I shared an amazing dinner together on Wednesday. After her sister left the following day, I went over to their place just hang out. By mid-afternoon, we decided that the best cure to our turkey hangover was Mexican food. Plus, Sizzler, and even Burger King and McDonald’s were closed. So we dashed out to a Mexican fast food place. We quickly found that the place was full—and the Mexican food, like always, was crazy delicious. But I also learned that sometimes, even in America, it isn’t “Thanksgiving Day” for everyone.
I’ve since lived in a few different countries, including Canada, where I loved having thanksgiving in October… and again in
November. Because why not? As American Thanksgiving is only recognized as a public holiday in the United States, I’ve most often opted to have “my” Thanksgiving on the Saturday prior to the fourth Thursday in November, possibly inspired by that Mexican food Thanksgiving. This year was no different, but instead of a massive feast at my house, my family and I made all of the trimmings, delivered “Thanksgiving dinners” to friends, then went home to eat.
I loved it. And I love Thanksgiving.
And yet… I have really struggled with the church’s #givethanks campaign.
Don’t get me wrong—I really needed and appreciated a facebook feed break from political commentary and angry “fake news” accusations. But in the age of the #humblebrag, #givethanks runs dangerously close to offering a soap box to the braggarts (swaggerers, boasters, braggadocios- you know those folks) among us.
I’ve heard from friends who are single or married, yet in marital strife, feeling disassociated and lesser when so many of the #givethanks posts are spouses congratulating themselves for having chosen such wonderful partners. I’ve shared the bitterness when people offer thanks for “God blessing them with children,” wherein they intentionally or unintentionally imply that those with infertility or are childless are not “blessed” by God (spoiler alert: infertile and childless couples are immensely blessed, too. Maybe even more than child-filled folks). I’ve seen or heard others posts that are equally cringe-worthy from the benign (“I love the Book of Mormon #givethanks”) to the utterly worldly (“My recent trip to Europe! #givethanks” and “I love my new hot tub! #givethanks”).
And yet… there are posts I’ve loved. Like the one by a friend whose husband is home from hospital. And another friend who is grateful for her 54th round of chemotherapy. And yet another friend who wrote the most uplifting words about her gratitude for water. Beautiful, simple, abundant, spiritual, water.
But mostly, I am uncomfortable with the timing of the whole #givethanks thing. Because again, American Thanksgiving is only recognized as a public holiday in the United States. And the majority of church members are not in the United States… and the campaign feels a little too close to American Thanksgiving to not be American. But here we are, participating in a global church by doing something that feels… American. Very American. Narrowly American. Crazy amounts of American. Like, shall we all break out in a rendition of Yankee Doodle Dandy?
People who live outside of the US are not stupid. We know when American Thanksgiving is. We also know that we don’t celebrate it any more than Americans celebrate St. George’s Day, Waitangai Day, Canadian Thanksgiving, Australia Day, or any other number of nationalistic/patriotic holidays that might inspire a #givethanks campaign.
So whilst I wish everyone well, and I truly love American Thanksgiving, I wish the church chose a non-American frame in which to parlay global gratitude. To me, it would do so much more to share our testimonies of Christ by having a #givethanks campaign on (for example) Candlemas (2 February), rather than express gratitude so close to an American national holiday which only serves to highlight just how crushingly American the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still is.