The day after Halloween, I walked into a crafts store. According to their displays, Halloween was so yesterday and Christmas season had officially begun.

There were plastic trees on display, cheap ornaments in boxes, and ribbons of every color. Somehow they even transitioned the scent of the whole store from autumn spice to winter wonderland.

Someone remarked to me recently that Thanksgiving “gets no love”– and that November is just that awkward transitional season after Halloween when we start anticipating the biggest purchasing month of the year.

why thanksgiving is so hard to market- and that is a good thing

What is it about Thanksgiving? Is there nothing to sell in relation to it?

This is my theory: Thanksgiving in its essence is terribly difficult to make materialistic. In fact, it stands for quite the opposite. Rather than giving stuff, we give thanks.

Other than Williams-Sonoma and your local grocery store, no one really promotes Thanksgiving the way that Halloween and Christmas are promoted. It’s because we know that the heart of the holiday is something that can’t be purchased: gathering around the table with loved ones to celebrate the blessings of the year. No amount of purchases or props can add meaning to this: it comes down to the posture of our hearts. 

I love Thanksgiving because there are so few items needed to make it special. Sure, many of us prepare a feast (and our family will be no exception), but decor can be low-key. There are no costumes, lights, or face paint to dig out of the garage. We don’t find ourselves adding new outfits to our closets just for Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving is deeply personal.

Sure, there’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, but families all over the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving in their own way. Some bring out the turkey, potatoes, stuffing and pie in traditional fashion; others might choose a different meal altogether, but gather nonetheless. Unlike Christmas, there’s much less expectation for everyone to follow the “rules” of a cultural holiday. A time of gratitude can hardly be a time of strict demands. To me, the message seems to be, “give thanks– in your own way, in your own time, with your loved ones.”

I still remember the first time I fell in love with Thanksgiving. I had always celebrated it as a child, but I came to appreciate the simple act of gathering around the table when I worked in addiction recovery. I was just getting the hang of cooking for large groups of people, when I realized we had a 120-headcount for Thanksgiving dinner. Families in our community took care of the turkeys, but we as the community kitchen were responsible for everything else.

We had hundreds of potatoes to chop, peel, cook and mash. I made 10 apple pies one morning. We stirred a vat of hot gravy and another bucket of homemade cranberry sauce. It was quite the production, and I was exhausted before the meal even began.

But as the residents walked in, the magic happened. I saw childlike glee creep across their faces. For many, this was their first Thanksgiving in a warm, safe place filled with friends. It didn’t matter what they were wearing, whether they had any money in their pockets, or how difficult their lives had been up to that point. With the crackling fire, good company and hot food, the festivity was full and our hearts, fuller.

The holiday spirit can’t be bought.

Sometimes we think it can be, especially when we’re shopping for gifts, selecting scented candles, or looking for new decorations. None of those things are bad, but they’re also not what brings the warmth into a room full of people.

I love that Thanksgiving comes between the two biggest spending holidays in America. I love that we can come together in the spirit of gratitude to celebrate what we have with those whom we have been given.

Christmas often gets credit (mostly from romantic comedies) for being the holiday during which people confess their love. But giving thanks for someone is a declaration of love. It need not be coupled with a diamond necklace or brand new gadget. “Thank you for being in my life; I love you” is sometimes enough.