The King’s Body: Thanksgiving and the antidote to democratic ingratitude

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1975

Since my earliest memories of Thanksgiving, not a year has gone by without a series of floats and dancing animals parading across my family’s television. I think that some family members would go into conniptions if we didn’t adhere to the nationwide tradition of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Considering our Latvian roots and idiosyncratic humor, it’s probably our most normal family tradition. The content is relatively age appropriate for all family members, it’s fun to see what’s playing on Broadway, and my 17-year-old sister still pulls off an accurate, albeit deafening, impression of Buddy the Elf when Santa finally arrives in New York City. 

However, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade illustrates the counterintuitive quality of a thanksgiving celebration in a democratic state. 

On one hand, Thanksgiving affirms Tocqueville’s observation in “Democracy in America” that the democratic man encounters profound happiness in hearth and home. Thanksgiving celebrates the joys of the private sector, gathering family around a home cooked meal and adhering to traditions that span generations. 

Although one’s holiday experiences may not always live up to Tocqueville’s description of the family as “the image of order and peace,” Thanksgiving exemplifies his vision of the American home, where man’s “pleasures are simple and natural, his joys innocent and tranquil.”

However, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began as an advertising stunt in 1924. Macy’s intended to announce the store’s expansion and utilize Thanksgiving as a launching point for Christmas consumerism. Today, the televised tradition is synonymous with the first onslaught of Christmas commercials announcing new cars, laptops and toys.

For all of its emphasis on the family and simplistic gratitude, the spirit of Thanksgiving seemingly cannot separate itself from the democratic agitation that impels man to constantly strive and grope for everything he currently lacks. In a free society, more always seems possible, even if it is not.

Tocqueville writes about “the innumerable temptations that fortune presents” to the democratic soul. One of these greatest temptations is to ingratitude.

Ingratitude first reared its ugly head in the original sin, when Adam and Eve refused to be satisfied with the incomparable gift of Eden and believed the lie that there was more God could have given them. 

Every sin is an act of ingratitude towards God’s infinite generosity. In the moment of sin, the simpering soul makes God in his own selfish image, believing that God’s hands are either rescinding happiness, or that God’s gifts are not enough to satisfy the soul’s thirst for love.

Like all virtues, gratitude is reflected differently in every uniquely crafted soul. To paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, I’m so glad I live in a world where not everyone is Anne or Pollyanna. But for all of the insults Pollyanna has suffered at my pessimistic hands, her ability to see the good in every situation is not simply a different view of my half-empty glass. Rather, it is intrinsic to the Christian life.

How does one learn gratitude in a culture entrenched in greed and dissatisfaction? The antidote to ingratitude is the celebration of the Eucharist. 

J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term “eucatastrophe” to describe the moment when total hopelessness and defeat is transformed into unimaginable joy and triumph. Every Mass, when the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented to the Father in an unbloody manner, the Church gives thanks for the eucatastrophe of the paschal mystery. She rejoices in the divine mercy which transformed the shame of the cross into a symbol of love and which made humanity’s brutal act of deicide the means of our salvation.

Every time we assist at Holy Mass, we give thanks for the day that we murdered God. If the Church calls the darkest day in history “Good” Friday, how can we not give thanks for the darkness in our own lives, which our Father will undoubtedly paint into light? 

During the offertory at Mass, the Church invites us to join in the offering of bread and wine by offering the Father every blessing and suffering from the week. Then, during the Eucharistic prayer, we kneel before the throne of mercy and witness every migraine, biology test, evening with friends, or joyful experience turn into Jesus Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity.

When we were in third grade Sunday school and learned that Eucharist means “Thanksgiving,” we learned a truth that goes far deeper than basic etymology. Through the Eucharist, the Lord pierces through our ingratitude. 

In response to the “ardor in [democratic man] for enriching himself,” Jesus enriches the soul with the ardent love in his own sacred heart. He invites the soul into an abundant joy that does not grasp for material goods on television, but instead embraces every aspect of this life as transient, yet given, beauty.

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