"We love all of our lights. The crazier, the better!" I had found myself in Manila, Philippines, in what was my first ever October-November business trip outside the U.S. And here I was, gazing with wonder at the extensive display of lights on practically every house and small business throughout this gritty, densely-packed city. These weren't just any lights – they were Christmas lights! Little did I know just how much the Filipino taxi driver would enlighten me on this humid, autumn evening.
"We just love Christmas. You know the Filipino people, we always look for any excuse to celebrate, and we can think of no better reason to celebrate than the birth of Jesus Christ. So, we light up the night with every color you can imagine because it reminds us constantly of the reason for our hope, even though many of us have endured so much difficulty."
In a nanosecond of American ignorance, I replied, "But what about Thanksgiving?" The moment those words escaped my lips, I sunk down into the back seat of the cab, laughing while secretly chastising myself in my mind. Of course they skipped Thanksgiving and went straight into Christmas decorating; Thanksgiving is a U.S. celebration. To my deeply Western mind, however, the whole October Christmas light spectacle – safely resting in the realm of gaudiness – still looked funny to me.
My taxi driver chimed in with a smile, "You Americans have a special occasion that marks the origins of your country, making November a special time for you. We don't have that in November here, and we're not too big on Halloween. For us, it's all about getting to Christmas as soon as possible!"
Then he said something that will stick with me forever."We don't need another holiday getting in the way of Christmas," he said sharply. "Besides, we try our best to treat every day like it's Thanksgiving."
Treat every day like it's Thanksgiving. What an incredibly simple, yet profound idea.
Suddenly, an epiphany broke forth in my mind with a thought I was sure God had deposited directly into my spirit: "They got it right, and Americans are missing it completely," I thought to myself. "It's like we're suffering from a holiday version of 'waiting for Friday' – all year, every year. What would it look like if, instead, we treated every day like it's Thanksgiving? And Christmas too for that matter? Like two sides of the same coin."
Each November, I come back around to this idea and share this moment from Manila with others. Considering the numerous troubles we're witnessing in our world today, I feel led to expand the conversation to include each of you this year. Perhaps this paradigm shift can be one of the small gifts you share this season.
Here are just a few ways you can "get into the holiday spirit," starting today and enduring into the New Year:
- If God has blessed you – and I'm most certain he has in some way – then tell someone! Declaring our thankfulness draws us closer to God.
- Consider today, and every day, to be a precious gift. If you're still fogging up the mirror and are blessed to be surrounded by family and friends, then give thanks.
- Remember the little things. Shoes on your feet, a warm meal, or the laughter of a tender child – don't overlook these simple gifts.
- Both holidays are about giving, not taking. Find a way every day, as simple as it may be, to be a blessing to others.
- Slow down. Enjoy this special season without worry of where you need to be next or work that needs to be done.
- Don't take a minute for granted. There's never a day wasted when it's spent on quality time with those you love.
I returned to the Philippines many times over the next few years, developing a deep love and appreciation for the Filipino people and the way they approach life with consistent, daily gratitude. Despite the countless challenges they face as an emerging economy, so many of those I've met from across this special place always seem to remember the One from whom all blessings flow. Thanksgiving flows so naturally to them and through them.
So now I ask you: Are you thankful enough for all the blessings in your life? Please don't wait until the turkey is served or the Christmas tree is laid bare, stripped of its gifts. Look around and observe your world with fresh eyes. You are truly more blessed than you may realize. We all are.
I pray God will continue to shower you and your family with love, joy and peace this holiday season and all throughout the year.