"When on September 8, 1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and his 800 Spanish settlers founded the settlement of St. Augustine in La Florida, the landing party celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving, and, afterward, Menéndez laid out a meal to which he invited as guests the native Seloy tribe who occupied the site. Numerous thanksgivings for a safe voyage and landing had been made before in Florida, by such explorers as Juan Ponce de León, in 1513 and 1521, Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528, Hernando de Soto in 1529, Father Luis Cáncer de Barbastro in 1549, and Tristán de Luna in 1559. Indeed French Calvinists (Huguenots) who came to the St. Johns River with Jean Ribault in 1562 and René de Laudonnière in 1564 similarly offered prayers of thanksgiving for their safe arrivals. But all of those ventures failed to put down permanent roots. St. Augustine's ceremonies were important historically in that they took place in what would develop into a permanently occupied European city."*
The impulse to thank God goes back to the beginning of history. The first thing Noah did when they came out of the Ark was to build an altar and make sacrifices to God. Abram was called by God to move to a new place, with the promise of being the start of a new nation. When he arrived in the center of the land where he was led, "the Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.' So he (Abram) built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him." (Genesis 12:7). He built altars to God in all places to which the Lord led him. When Joshua led the Israelites through the Jordan River on their return, they brought stones from the riverbed and built a monument, "so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand to the Lord is powerful, and so that you might always fear the Lord your God." (Joshua 4:24)
The feasts that developed in Israel in obedience to God were reminders and opportunities for the people to express their thankfulness and gratitude to God. But beyond the specific occasions, the attitude of thankfulness fills a good part of the Bible--first for the care and calling of God, and in the New Testament, the saving work of Jesus. It reminds us that we are not the creators of our world, but the beneficiaries of a loving Creator. And even better, he is not just Lord, but our Lord; He is our Father, and we are His children, that in faith we receive His gifts knowing that all we have is His.
* Florida historian Dr Michael Gannon, from an essay written in 2002, quoted in The Keepers' Blog, St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, St Augustine, FL)