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Does the Bible Allow or Prohibit the Celebration of the National Holiday of Thanksgiving?

The word “thanksgiving” is mentioned several times throughout the Bible. Depending on which Bible translation is being used, in the Authorized Version or the King James Version, it is mentioned 30 times; 32 times in the NIV (New International Version); and 38 times in the ESV (English Standard Version), just to give a few examples. Of course, there are many more Scriptures throughout the Bible where the theme of “giving thanks” or “thankfulness” is mentioned. 

The history of the American Thanksgiving Day is quite interesting as it contains origins of religious traditions, similar in ways to what the Bible alludes when referring to God’s annual Fall Holy Days. According to Wikipedia, “Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated on various dates in Canada, the United States, some of the Caribbean islands and Liberia. It began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Similarly named festival holidays occur in Germany and Japan [as well as other countries like the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, India, Australia, and the Philippines].

In this Q&A, we are only concentrating on the celebration of the American Thanksgiving Day and, in passing, of the Canadian Thanksgiving Day. The comments herein may or may not apply to Thanksgiving Day celebration in other countries, which might have incorporated pagan customs in association with the original worship of pagan gods and goddesses.

Continuing with the above-quoted article:

“Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States, and around the same part of the year in other places. Although Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, it has long been celebrated as a secular holiday as well.

“Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times. The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.

“In the English tradition, days of thanksgiving and special thanksgiving religious services became important during the English Reformation in the reign of Henry VII and in reaction to the large number of religious holidays on the Catholic calendar. Before 1536 there were 95 Church holidays, plus 52 Sundays, when people were required to attend church and forego work and sometimes pay for expensive celebrations. The 1536 reforms reduced the number of Church holidays to 27, but some Puritans wished to completely eliminate all Church holidays, including Christmas and Easter. The holidays were to be replaced by specially called Days of Fasting or Days of Thanksgiving, in response to events that the Puritans viewed as acts of special providence. Unexpected disasters or threats of judgment from on high called for Days of Fasting. Special blessings, viewed as coming from God, called for Days of Thanksgiving. For example, Days of Fasting were called on account of drought in 1611, floods in 1613, and plagues in 1604 and 1622. Days of Thanksgiving were called following the victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 and following the deliverance of Queen Anne in 1705.”

When focusing on Canada, “According to some historians, the first celebration of Thanksgiving in North America occurred during the 1578 voyage of Martin Frobisher from England in search of the Northwest Passage. Other researchers, however, state that ‘there is no compelling narrative of the origins of the Canadian Thanksgiving day.’

“The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are also sometimes traced to the French settlers who came to New France in the 17th century, who celebrated their successful harvests. The French settlers in the area typically had feasts at the end of the harvest season and continued throughout the winter season, even sharing food with the indigenous peoples of the area. As settlers arrived in Nova Scotia from New England after 1700, late autumn Thanksgiving celebrations became commonplace. New immigrants into the country—such as the Irish, Scottish, and Germans—also added their own traditions to the harvest celebrations. Most of the US aspects of Thanksgiving (such as the turkey) were incorporated when United Empire Loyalists began to flee from the United States during the American Revolution and settled in Canada.”

In the United States, “Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the issuance of Thanksgiving proclamations. Various proclamations were made by royal governors, John Hancock, General George Washington, and the Continental Congress, each giving thanks to God for events favorable to their causes. As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, ‘as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.’”

Other nations celebrate this day in their own unique way with their own customs (some, if not many, originated from pagan worship practices). However, when giving thanks to our Creator is emphasized, without mixing this with inappropriate religious pagan customs, it is in a stark contrast to pagan holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, for example. For more information, please read our free booklet, “Is That in the Bible? Man’s Holidays and God’s Holy Days,” and especially the chapter on Thanksgiving Day (pages 36-39).

The American Thanksgiving Day is a holiday specifically based on biblical principles and commands, although not directly mentioned in Scripture. Neither are the Feast of Purim and the Feast of Dedication which are based on events being described in the book of Esther (compare Esther 9:17-32) and the (apocryphal) books of First and Second Maccabees (compare also John 10:22-42), but it has been understood by God’s Church that especially for the Jewish community, it is not wrong to observe these days.

Thanksgiving Day is a day which can be spent with family and friends, honoring and thanking God for the bountiful blessings He provides.

We have much to be thankful for, but we must not forget whom we need to thank. It is God the Father whom we need to thank every single day through Jesus Christ for everything He has done for us and there are several ways in which we can thank Him.

We thank Him through Prayer. We thank God for all that we have. Colossians 4:2 tells us that we must pray earnestly and be vigilant with prayer. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of prayer. We all go through problems and sometimes we may not have the answers we are looking for, but one thing is for sure: God has the answer and He will reveal it to us in due time. It is quite normal to be frustrated if an answer does not come right away and since we are human, we may allow worry and doubt to creep in, but God tells us in James 1:6 that we should ask in faith without doubting. Also, every time we pray, we give thanks to God, no matter what the situation is. Who else knows better than God Himself about the tests that we go through, for it is also He who tests us continuously to see how we respond: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). 

We shouldn’t take anything for granted. We give a prayer at the beginning and end of each church service.  Even Jesus Christ prayed to His Father before He preached, in Mark 1:35-39. 

God has a plan for each and every one of us. He knows everything that goes on; what we do and what we think about, even before we think it. And if we want to be close to God, it is vital that we pray ALWAYS because prayer defines our relationship with God. This is where we have a private conversation with our Father (just as Jesus did when He prayed to His Father), by giving Him thanks and letting Him know what is on our minds, but we also have to be careful for what we pray and how we pray. The Bible instructs us the way we should pray in the example of the model prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, and in many other ways throughout the Scriptures (For more information on Prayer, please read our free booklet on “Teach Us to Pray”).

We wouldn’t even be here and everything we have wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for God. We have all been blessed throughout our lives, with all that we have done and experienced. Being called by God to the Truth is definitely a huge blessing, and those who have chosen to live His Way of Life have an advantage over the rest of the world.  

Because of these blessings, there is yet another way we show God that we are thankful for what He has done for us. Those of us who know the Truth and have the knowledge of God’s plan, also offer Him thanks through our tithes and offerings. It is a blessing that we can observe the Sabbath and the Holy Days, which all picture His plan. God made them all, and He requires of us to pay Him back 10% from the increase that we make, and we do it with thanksgiving. Hebrews 13:15-16 says: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” God is pleased when we are giving and helping others.

David understood how God’s plan worked and how God was working with him.David showed his thankfulness towards God in Psalms 116:16-17 by offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving: “O LORD, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant; You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the LORD.”

Focusing on the church services on the Sabbath day, we thank God during the opening and closing prayers and we also show Him our appreciation by singing to Him with hymns, with thanksgiving. Psalm 69:30 says, “I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” And in Psalm 95:2 it says, “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.” Further in Psalm 100:1-5, “Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise.Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.”  Also in Psalm 147:7, Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving.” We thank God through the singing of His Word.  

As we can see through the history of how the national day of Thanksgiving came about and also the many examples throughout the Bible which address the spirit of “thanksgiving,” there is no reason why this day can’t be celebrated by us with our families and friends. We have so much to be thankful for and we should not forget what God has done for us and what He continues to do for us. We have to give thanks to God always for and in everything (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). We should continue to be thankful always, especially towards God since it is He to whom we owe our lives. 

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (Revelations 7:12).

Lead Writer: Michael Link