Scanning the rows of vegetables in the produce section of the grocery store, my eyes landed on what I was searching for.

A bag of romaine lettuce, a cucumber, fresh mushrooms, avocados and grape tomatoes were soon inside the buggy. With the other ingredients at home – boiled eggs, green pepper, feta cheese, walnut bits and dried cranberries – I had everything for what I call the perfect salad. Now I could concentrate on the other aisles in the store.

That was when it hit. What was that that I was hearing? Could it be? No, much too early. Yet there were those strains of music and the familiar words, “… although it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.”

I checked the date on my watch – Nov. 13. How could they be playing Christmas music already? And so it begins, earlier it seems every year – the Christmas season. For those more politically correct than I, it is called the holiday season. However, many of us don’t celebrate a holiday, we celebrate Christmas.

The rush for Christmas dollars seems to come at a more advanced date on the calendar each year. The first Christmas items started appearing in stores sometime in October, and by the time Halloween has passed, the specialty aisles are filled with red and green, the sounds of jingling bells and the piney fragrance that reminds us of Christmas trees.

From an economic standpoint, I can understand the need for merchants to capitalize on their most lucrative time of the year. It has been said that the Christmas season will make or break a business. And with recent economic news, that is probably more true today than ever before.

Some of us still long for the days when Halloween preparations were followed by the few weeks of Thanksgiving planning and then the Christmas season. How I longed for the appearance of Santa at the end of the televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Then I knew that I could begin seeing catalogs in the newspaper with all those wonderful Christmas toys.

And newspapers had their annual countdown to the big day: “Only XX shopping days left until Christmas.” That was back when Sunday was not considered a shopping day because most of the stores were closed – not that I am nostalgic for the blue laws.

Thanksgiving seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle between Halloween and Christmas. I guess a huge turkey dinner with family all around doesn’t hold a candle to expensive costumes and even more expensive gifts. But it is a day that we can sit back and give thanks for all that we have.

In this country we are truly blessed. In spite of the political split that has almost half of the country on one side and almost half on the other, we share the bonds of a nation unlike any other in the world. We are a country of freedom that many in the world have never experienced and cannot even fathom. We are a land of plenty, and we all share in that plenty to some extent.

In this Thanksgiving season, I give thanks for this country and for those who have made and are making it great. There are faults, and they are regularly pointed out, but show me a country in the world whose system is better. Thanks for the U.S.

I am thankful for family, the cornerstone of my life. I am thankful for friends and all they mean. I am thankful for this community and the people who make it a great place to live, not just a place on the map.

As I have written before, this year I visited Kenya and was able to see a level of poverty I had never witnessed. It is humbling to be in the presence of people who have almost nothing, yet who are truly thankful for what they have been given. That taught me that Thanksgiving does not have to be about plenty; it has to do with an understanding that whatever we have is worth giving thanks over.

I hope that this year Thanksgiving will be more than the day we prepare for Black Friday. I hope that all of us will take a look at our lives and be truly grateful for what has been given to us. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.