By Tim Hayes

There’s an unusual holiday coming up this week.  One like no other.  On October 3, 1863, in the middle of the War Between the States, and exactly 74 years to the day after President George Washington issued a similar declaration, President Abraham Lincoln finally made it official.  After listing all of the blessings and advantages bestowed on the United States, he wrote:

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

The scenes of this distinctly American holiday are so familiar by now, that they have morphed into clichés.

The Norman Rockwell painting of a traditional American Thanksgiving, with Grandma bringing the turkey to the crowded table full of extended family members.

The tradition of everyone “saying what they’re thankful for” before digging into the late-autumn feast.

Watching parades in the morning and football in the afternoon in a relaxed family environment, with no deadlines, no pressure, no worries.

And the latest one – where large retail chain stores have convinced themselves that consumers’ values have become so warped that time spent saving 20% on a video game player or a vacuum cleaner trumps time spent with the most important people in your life on Thanksgiving Day.

Are those companies right?  Where do our values lie?  With people?  Or stuff?

If it’s with stuff, it can be easy to rationalize.  “I want to give the people I love the best.”  But even that begs the question: The “best” what?  Toaster oven?

Here’s the secret.  What each of us needs most is each other.  Period.  You want to give thanks this year?  Why wait for the last Thursday in November to do it?  Tell your spouse, your kids, your parents, your significant other, your co-workers, your neighbors, your friends, the nice lady at the supermarket checkout, a special teacher (of yours or your kids), your mailman – anybody at all – that you appreciate what they do and who they are and what they mean to you, any day you want to.  Even better, tell them every day!

A personal hero of mine, the late Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame, once brought an auditorium full of television studs and starlets to tears during an awards program by asking them to do what I’m asking you to do: Take a minute and think of the people who have loved you into the person you are today.

Then pick up the phone, walk into the next room, compose an e-mail, and tell them so.  Refocus Thanksgiving from holiday to everyday.

The Beatles may have said it best: “Can’t Buy Me Love.”  People or stuff?  The choice is yours.  Spending Thanksgiving at the mall?  That’s a holiday tradition that needs to be nipped in the bud.

Here’s wishing you and yours a peaceful, warm, prayerful day of thanks with the people you love the most.  Great idea, Abe.

[This essay was inspired by “People or Stuff?” as published by the Center for Victory at Special thanks to Eric Guy for permission to adapt his source material.]

Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting