In Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the cartoon successor to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, there is an episode where Daniel and his friends are celebrating Thank You Day. On Thank You Day, the children are learning about saying thank you to the people who help them throughout their everyday lives. In their neighborhood, they make a Thank You Tree, where each person sticks a thank you note until the tree is filled with cards, just like leaves. One child thanks her parent for playing with her. Another thanks their teacher for teaching. One thanks his brother for showing him how to catch a ball.
Daniel Tiger, though, is stuck. He can’t decide whom to thank! It’s not because no one is helping him, but rather because there are so many people he could thank that it’s hard to pick just one. Everyone is going to the thank you tree to put their notes in, and he still hasn’t made up his mind. Then a gust of wind blows all the notes off the tree! Fortunately, Mr. McFeely, the mail carrier, is there to catch the cards as they fly away. He delivers each note to its recipient, and Daniel realizes that he wants to thank Mr. McFeely! He writes a quick card, then joins the neighborhood in singing, “Thank you for everything you do! Thank you for everything you do!”
Saying thank you is one of the earliest courtesies we learn. We teach one- and two-year-olds to say thank you. We expect older children to say thank you without prompting. We then up the ante by training teens to write thank you notes, often expecting hand-written notes mailed within a month of birthdays, graduations, and Christmas. You can even buy wedding invitations that come with matching thank you cards.
This is a time of year when we often think of gratitude. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful. All too often, that gratitude is immediately swept away by the desire to have more stuff as Christmas advertising ramps up. Buy One Get One Free! This Weekend Only! Limited Stock! New and Improved!
But God’s people are called to be grateful people, not gimme people. I’m not saying no to gift giving. But what if, for every gift you bought leading up to Christmas, you went out of your way to thank someone for something they said or did, not for something they got you? Maybe you could write a thank you note to hospital staff working overtime to care for Covid-19 patients. Maybe you could thank a friend for always being there for you. Maybe, like Daniel Tiger, there are just too many people who need thanking. That’s okay! Thank you cards come in bulk, not just ten-packs.
Gratitude is like a muscle. The more we use and express it, the stronger it becomes. We say thank you to our neighbors, our friends, and our God. I knew someone who wrote thank you notes to God throughout the year, then read them all on New Year’s Eve to remind herself of all that God had done. She wanted to grow in gratitude.
Let’s make our own Thank You Days. Let’s show people that we appreciate them, that we thank them and thank God for them. Let this Thanksgiving be a time of gratitude in our words and in our hearts.
God, I thank you for all that you give me. I ask you to help me show gratitude to you and to the people around me, so the world abounds in grateful hearts. Amen.