It is a rare culture or group that doesn’t have some sort of day, festival, or worship service for giving thanks, or showing appreciation for labors and efforts. Harvest festivals are what most of us probably think about, or perhaps offering thanks to the ancestors for deliverance, or thanking a deity for independence, or victory, or the gift of Scripture and teachings, or something. It may be a day set aside on a ritual calendar, or just “when harvest is finished” every year. There’s always been a sense that someone, other than just the people who planted, tended, and harvested, or hunted, or fought, should be given thanks for the good thing that happened.
The US and Canada made that an official day on the calendar. Setting aside a national day of thanks was either the first or second executive order made by President George Washington (historians disagree). The day came and went, and then was made a permanent (this far) holiday, with a set date, in the 1900s. In some places, there are also separate religions days of thanks, like at the church I attended in Not-All-That-Flat state. It was a farming area and a farming town, and every year, when harvest ended, a special service of thanks was held. We also had special harvest and planting devotional guides, and prayer teams for harvest and planting. Yes, it was a very, very important event in the life of the people!
Then we’d have a sort of Harvest Home, minus the alcohol and “corn dollie.” Instead it was hot-dishes, Jellos, ham, and other good things, all cooked by people who did not farm. In part because the farm wives had been doing lots and lots and lots of cooking, and were tired. So the rest of us pitched in instead, and gave them and their families a break. We sang hymns like “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” and “This is my Father’s World,” and celebrated another year in the bin (as they say in that part of the world.) Harvest was close, it was critical, and we honored it.
Giving thanks means that you acknowledge something outside of yourself. It may be a deity, it may be people who helped you, it may just be gratitude to the world for being so beautiful and good. Looking outside of ourselves is important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “us,” centered in ourselves in a bad way, and forgetful of what goes on around us. Saying “thank you,” acknowledging effort or generosity makes the way smoother and moves us out of our own heads, so to speak. Thus the frequent religious commands in most faiths that believers are to give thanks to the deity/deities for good things, and to apologize when that thanks is forgotten. It also binds people together in society.
Today, in the year 2021, it seems as if it is hard to give thanks, at least the usual phrases. Things are still off-kilter, more so than two years ago. For some of us it is better than in 2020, for others not so. But we are all here, and alive, and all of us have someone or something to give thanks for, even if it is colorful leaves and a beautiful sunset, or appliances that work and a car that runs, or a close family member still being with us and healthy.
So we in the US give thanks, eat festival foods, and think about the good things that we have been given. Who gave them? That’s up to you to say. I give thanks for readers and stories, for family and friends, for a non-leaking roof and a truck that runs, for a beautiful world with music and leaves and sunsets and amazing wonders in it.