As I write this, Thanksgiving Day 2008 will be over within a few hours. I wonder how many Americans this day paused to give thanks to God for His many blessings, or at least, if they don't believe in God, to reflect on the elements of their lives they appreciate. Far too many people see this as a day for football, food and family, or preparations for the shopping frenzy that begins tomorrow.
I could go back and discuss the origins of this American holiday, to relate how the Indians and the settlers cooperated to survive a harsh winter and when the following harvest came in with enough to sustain them for the coming winter, they chose to celebrate with a feast. I could mention the various Presidential declarations establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. But I wish to go deeper.
First, what does it mean to thank someone? We are told by our parents to say "Thank you," or at least parents used to teach that. Is it just something we say to be nice, to get along with others?
When you give thanks, you do two things.
First, you recognize that someone did something for you, or gave you something. Many times, the thing done was something you could have done for yourself, but maybe you didn't have the time or the means. Sometimes the act was something you couldn't do. In that case, giving thanks can be an act of humility. That might explain why some people are never thankful, they don't want to recognize their shortcomings.
Second, you recognize the value of what the person did or gave you. Think of how hurt you feel when no one appreciates what you do for them.
Now, about national celebrations for the giving of thanks, America is not the first. The feasts of ancient Israel include thanksgiving celebrations, and those celebrations continue today as part of Judaism.
At the end of Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, people would bring in the first sheaf of the springtime harvest and sacrifice it. This is the Feast of the Firstfruits, and marks the beginning of the springtime harvest. It also recognizes the fertility of the Promised Land that God was going to lead his people to.
Fifty days after the beginning of Passover came Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. It originally memorialized when Moses received the Torah from God on Mount Sinai, but it also marked the end of the spring time harvest.
Why give thanks to God? I believe John the Baptist said it best in John 3: 27: "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven."