THANKSGIVING – Is it a religious holiday?

October 24, 2016


(Is it a religious holiday?)

People in the United States celebrate several holidays every year.  Other countries have their own special days too.  As for the holidays celebrated in the United States, a good many have a religious connection and some are celebrated in religious ways.  However, most of those holidays have no legitimate biblical connection, though people of the Christian faith celebrate them religiously.

Examples of holidays that often are celebrated religiously, but have no biblical basis are Christmas, Easter, and Halloween.  Quickly, some will argue that Christmas is based on the birth of Jesus and Easter is to celebrate His resurrection.  That is the case in the mind of those who see the holidays as religious.  However, there is no place in the New Testament that instructs to celebrate the birth of Jesus and there is no place that instructs to celebrate one first day of the week above another.

There is no record of the apostles and the early church celebrating the birth of Jesus and no indication that they every celebrated his resurrection on a “special” first day of the week.  It is apparent that the early church remembered the resurrection every first day of the week, with equal significance given to each.

Halloween is based on superstition and has its roots in witchcraft and sorcery, both of which are condemned in the Bible.  Yet people of the Christian faith seem to participate in the celebrations just as do those who subscribe to the practice of witchcraft and who believe in witches and ghosts.  There is no biblical basis for the celebrations and no biblical authority nor precedent for Christians to participate.

Thanksgiving, however, is another issue.  A Christian can celebrate Thanksgiving with every reason to feel religious about it.  If there is an American holiday that has biblical basis, it is Thanksgiving.  The forefathers of this country first introduced the idea of having a special day set apart to offer thanks to God.  In the summer of 1621, the Plymouth Colony stopped to give thanks in what is deemed “the first Thanksgiving”. The following year brought drought and there was a day of prayer.  In the years 1777-1784, each year the Continental Congress issued a proclamation for a special day of thanksgiving.  The leaders in the Continental Congress definitely believed that the thanks should be given to God, as they made multiple references to Him in their Proclamations.  The references to God in those proclamations numbered as follows:

1777- 13 references

1778- 6 references

1779- 9 references

1780- 8 references

1781- 9 references

1782- 10 references

1783- 15 references

1784- 16 references

In 1889, George Washington issued a proclamation for a day of thanksgiving, with 14 references to God.  Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863 made the celebration of Thanksgiving an official national holiday for the first time.  Since Washington first proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, 28 more presidents have also issued similar proclamations.  As recently as 2008, George W. Bush issued a proclamation containing 8 references to God and five quotes from Washington and Lincoln.

The Bible is replete with references to the need for an attitude of gratitude.  In the Old Testament, examples of such exhortation are found in:

Psalms 100: 1-5

Psalms 69:30  “I will magnify Him with Thanksgiving.”

Psalms 95:2   “Come before His face with Thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving was often expressed through songs in the Old Testament.

See examples in the following:

Psalms 147: 7  “Sing unto the Lord with Thanksgiving.”

Nehemiah 12:27-28a, 31, 38, 46-47

At a dedication of the re-built Jerusalem wall.

It was also made clear in the Old Testament that it was a serious offense to fail to acknowledge God as the source of all blessings.  Note the message in the following passages.

Psalms 103:1-22, Deuteronomy  8: 10-20

The New Testament also urged gratitude in the mind of the followers of Christianity.  Consider the following.

Colossians 3: 12-16  “Above all, be grateful”

Ephesians 5:19-20    “Always giving thanks”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18  “In all things, give thanks.”

Even in John’s Revelation, which offers a glimpse of Heaven, thanksgiving is shown to be a part of the spirit of those found there.

Note:  Revelation 4:9 and Revelation 7:11-12

Therefore, it is clear than Thanksgiving Day is a day Christians can definitely celebrate with religious conviction. Still, there is no proclamation in the Bible that indicates one should be thankful just one day of the year, we are to be grateful to God for all things, all the time.

W. E. (Willie) Hamblen

[email protected]

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