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Thanksgiving: Holiday or Holy Day?

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


When you look up the word "Thanksgiving" in the dictionary or encyclopedia, you will see that it is defined as a national holiday. It is always celebrated on the last Thursday in November in the United States, but it is celebrated on various other days in some countries. So, do most countries celebrate it as a holiday, a holy day, or both?

Thanksgiving: A Holiday

Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated on the last Thursday in November, according to federal proclamations. The date changes every year, but the day always remains the same.

Thanksgiving Day goes by all the guidelines of other federal holidays in the country, including which agencies are closed on that particular day. Post Offices are closed, and there is no mail delivery. Banks are closed, but ATMs and online banking are available. Schools are closed on Thanksgiving Day and the day afterward. Most employees who work in other places are given the day off. Some of them take Friday off as well so they can have a long weekend. This is ideal for people who travel to celebrate with their families who live far away.

For some, Thanksgiving is celebrated only as a secular holiday. Their main activities include enjoying a big feast, attending or watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on television, and watching football games.

Thanksgiving: A Holy Day

The first Thanksgiving was a day celebrated by the Indians and pilgrims by giving thanks for a bountiful harvest the preceding year. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 with a big feast. For them, the time of celebrating lasted over a three-day period for at least 140 people. There were too many to sit inside around a table. Instead, they ate outside with plates on their laps.


Thanksgiving has been celebrated on the last Thursday in November since 1941 based on federal legislation. Thanksgiving was a religious celebration many years before it became a federal holiday.

Some churches have early morning religious services before families gather to enjoy a big feast and engage in other family fun activities on Thanksgiving Day.

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Holiday, Holy Day, or Both?

Thanksgiving Day is both a federal holiday and a holy day. It was a religious day long before it became a holiday.

The New England colonists celebrated the day with prayers of thanks to God for His blessings on their military victories, the end of a drought, and for providing for them through a long winter.

The United States Continental Congress did not proclaim Thanksgiving as a national holiday right away. It was left up to the states whether to enact the proclamation or not. Some states objected to the government proclaiming a national holiday for religious observance.

Southerners hesitated to adopt the proclamation, and others found fault with the day being used to hold political speeches and parades. Thanksgiving Day did not become an official holiday until Northerners supported the federal government in its decision. Thanksgiving Day became a federal holiday thanks to the efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book. She campaigned for a national Thanksgiving Day to promote unity between Southerners and Northerners. On October 3, 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26 thanks to the efforts of Hale.

Every president after Lincoln issued a proclamation for Thanksgiving to be observed as a national holiday. Therefore, Thanksgiving is celebrated today as both a holiday and a holy day.

The Last Thursday in November Is Not Always Thanksgiving Day

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation in 1942 designating the fourth Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving Day until it was pointed out that the fourth Thursday in November is not always the last Thursday. Some people were celebrating Thanksgiving a week before others in the same country. So, what caused the confusion?

There are five Thursdays in November in some years. The last time November had five Thursdays was in 2018. The next time there will be five Thursdays is in 2023. To avoid confusion, it is always best to say Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday in November because the last Thursday is a week later.

Celebrate Thanksgiving by Giving Thanks

You can celebrate Thanksgiving both as a holiday and as a holy day. Remember to make no new requests. Instead, thank God for what He has already done. Thank God for your harvest and other blessings He provided for you during the past year.


When Is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Day

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