Thanksgiving is a non-religious holiday?

I heard it stated today on the radio that Thanksgiving is great for Americans because it’s the only holiday (non-purely-civic holiday) that can be celebrated by anyone of any faith.

This got me thinking… if someone doesn’t believe in a God, why would they celebrate Thanksgiving? Maybe they are just recounting something about the Puritans meeting the Native Americans 400 years ago? Or maybe they are just thankful that our country has the freedoms that it does (though those freedoms are waning).

I’m not trying to start a debate with atheists – but this is just an honest question: What’s the point of giving thanks for an American who insists there is no higher power?

I am not sure if there are any atheists on-board to discuss this, so I will quote from an essay published yesterday on website of the Tucson Citizen

As an Atheist I have no god to thank but there are plenty of others that deserve my thanks.

I thank all the people that came before me. I also thank all the people that are still here working to make life a more pleasant experience. I thank the first humans that decided to cooperate with each other and pool their resources and skills. We owe most of what we have now to those first altruistic efforts. I thank those that decided to work to understand the world around them—the scientist and the engineer that applied that knowledge for our benefit. I thank early leaders, traders, and builders. I appreciate the development of farming and the people that made that happen. I thank the people who chose to protect others through their service—the sentry and the soldier. I thank the well paid and most especially the volunteers. If my parents were still alive, I’d thank them for providing and protecting my life when I was too weak and too ignorant to be on my own. I’d thank them for all the lessons they taught me—some on purpose and some by accident—because they made me the man I am now.

On Thanksgiving nine years ago, my life would have ended if not for the efforts of the doctors, nurses, and all the people that took care of me at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I thank them for keeping me alive that day fixing my heart so I could live a little longer. I thank the firemen and women that drove me in the ambulance to St. Josephs and the support the neighbors gave my wife. But I can’t stop there. I have to thank the creator of the stents and the inventor and builder of the fluoroscope that guided the doctor’s hand when he manipulated the catheter to place the stents. I give thanks to those that educated the professionals that worked on me that day and all the support staff that allows them to do their job…I can’t chalk it up to God’s work. I don’t know there is a god. However, I do know that there are real people with real lives that I owe a lot of thanks to.

I think it is easy to count one’s blessings, without formally thanking God for them.

Being humbly mindful of the good things we have is a healthy practice. It is important to remember that our life could easily be worse, and that our welfare depends on others, not just on our own efforts.

The word Eucharist is English for the Greek word eucharistia which means thanksgiving and almost every Church in my diocese has a 9:30AM mass.

Our family went to Mass every year on Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. (1960-1985). I was in my late twenties before discovering they weren’t days of obligation.

An objective observer could easily think that there are no religious holidays in the US.

Christmas means red and green M&Ms, Easter means pastels.


This is cute!

These are all great points that you make there.

But, human nature being what it is, most people just care that they are getting 2 free days off work and school to overeat and lay around and be lazy.
The excuse why we’re doing it pretty much becomes a moot point – we do the same thing on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day.

I love Thanksgiving, but like most people I’m more likely to be thinking about Thanksgiving because of who I get to see and what I get to do, as opposed to thinking of the real meaning behind it. …

… when we have American holidays, we enjoy them for the pupose of stuffing our faces — Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, what do we do? We put fattening meat onto the grill and then we scarf in down. Thanksgiving, what do we do? But a bird in the oven and scarf it down, along with pie on top of it.

And we indulge in all this stuff because we have the excuse of doing so because of a holiday. Not that we Americans ever need a special excuse to overeat. :wink:

Sure, or they could be thankful to all the individuals in their life… family members, spouse, friends, etc.

Thanks all.
Veritas and Dale – I suppose that is what I was looking for. So a non-religious American is either just happy to have 2 extra days off, or they are giving thanks to others who helped them or the country in general
If that’s the case, then I would think they should send greeting cards to each other (thanking them) or going out and serving the community as a way to give thanks. The current customs of this holiday are geared more toward a “vertical” thanks rather than “horizontal.” Oh well…

I don’t see it that way. I think it’s more horizontal than anything. You get together with friends and family to give thanks to them, to celebrate the harvest, etc.

So Thanksgiving at its root is a non-religious holiday? No – that’s certainly not the way the leaders of our country who made it an official day thought of it. They saw it vertically: all of us as a nation looking up to God to give thanks.

Yes, I agree with you about its original form. But I don’t think that is the way it has been celebrated in the US for many decades. Its more of a family holiday. A time to celebrate togetherness with loved ones.

To take it further, Christmas is a religious holiday as well. But the way it is celebrated in the US is fairly secular. There may be a nod towards the birth of Jesus, but its really about enjoying oneself and celebrating one’s family. In Protestant churches, Christmas morning services are often sparsely attended, even on Sundays. Famously, some mega-churches cancel their Sunday services if Christmas happens to fall on that day. Celebrating happy times with family is considered more important.

I am not saying that is the way things should be. But that seems true for the majority of Americans.

You’re right, Dale. And just as God has for most Americans been removed from Thanksgiving, many are trying to remove Him from all other areas of our government and culture. Because of this, we can only expect our society to continue its downward spiral.

I just found this – the text of George Washington’s October 3, 1789 national Thanksgiving Proclamation; as printed in The Providence Gazette and Country Journal, on October 17, 1789. Indeed, it is vertical, not horizontal!

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

Is that true? Can Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate Thanksgiving?

Also my kids go to school with a lot of Hindu children who strictly avoid turkey or any other animal products. So they may celebrate a day of giving thanks, but without turkey is it still Thanksgiving???


Indeed Thanksgiving was to God. I would note one would think those who claim Washington was a Deist run into problems with this document.

Even more interesting to me than the early Thanksgiving proclamation is the proclamation by Confederate President Jefferson Davis of a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer. Fasting? Humiliation? That is scandalous.

It is meet that, as people who acknowledge the supremacy of the living God, we should be ever mindful of our dependence on Him, and should remember that to Him alone can we trust our deliverance, that to him is due the devout thankfulness for signal mercies bestowed on us, and that by prayer alone can we hope to receive continued manifestation of that protecting care which has hitherto shielded us in the midst of trials and dangers. In obedience to this precept, we have from time to time been gathered together with prayers and thanksgiving, and He has been graciously pleased to hear our supplications, and to grant abundant exhibitions of His favor to our arms and our people.

Through many conflicts we have now attained a place among nations which commands their respect, and let the enemies who encompass us around and seek our destruction see that the Lord of Hosts has again taught them the lesson of His inspired word, “that the battle is not to the strong,” but to whomsoever He willeth to exalt. Again an enemy, with loud boasting of power, of their armed men and mailed ships, threaten us with subjugation, and with evil machinations seek, even in our homes and at our own firesides, to pervert our men servants and our maid servants into accomplices of their wicked designs.

Under these circumstances it is my privilege to invite you once more to meet together and prostrate yourselves in humble supplication to Him who has been our constant and never-failing support in the past, and to whose protection and guidance we trust for the future. To this end I, JEFFERSON DAVIS, President of the Confederate States of America, do issue this, my proclamation, setting apart Friday, the 27th day of March, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.

I do also invite the people of the said States to repair, on that day, to their usual places of public worship, there to join in prayer to Almighty God that he will continue his merciful protection over our cause; that he will scatter our enemies and set at nought their evil designs, and that he will graciously restore to our beloved country the blessings of peace and security.

In faith whereof I have hereunto set my hand, at the City of Richmond, on the 27th day of February, in the year of our Lord, 1863.


How can Thanksgiving be a religious holiday if it’s only observed in one country? A Christian in Brazil doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a national holiday created by George Washington, but was only sporadically observed until the Civil War when Lincoln made it the fourth Thursday in November to help heal the nation. The day was changed again by Roosevelt during the Great Depression to the second-to-last Thursday in November to give retailers more time to sell stuff in the run up to Christmas (yes it goes back that far).

While giving thanks and praise to God (or a higher Being) is mentioned, that really doesn’t make it a religious holiday as it isn’t specific to one, IMHO.

What makes you think that a holiday that has a religious background must be celebrated everywhere in the world? :confused:

Suppose I prayed a novena to St. Joseph to find a new job, and he came through for me and my family. Now suppose that each year my family and I celebrated the anniversary of my new job – it sort of becomes a little holiday in my house as a reminder of St. Joseph’s patronage to us.

Can you see how that’s a holiday to me, but it has a religious background? Therefore, a holiday can certainly be celebrated on a local scale and still be religious at heart.
'Nuff said. :slight_smile:

We’re not talking about personal “holidays”, if there is such a thing. Thanksgiving is not based on a religious event, thing or person. It’s based on the Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal way back when.

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