Thanksgiving Day

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About the Commemoration

Agricultural festivals are of great antiquity, and common to many religions. Among the Jews, the three pilgrimage feasts, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, each had agricultural significance. Medieval Christianity also developed a number of such observances, none of which, however, were incorporated into the Prayer Book. Our own Thanksgiving Day finds its roots in observances begun by colonists in Massachusetts and Virginia, a tradition later taken up and extended to the whole of the new American nation by action of the Continental Congress.


i Almighty and gracious Father, we give thee thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we beseech thee, faithful stewards of thy great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

ii Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalm 65


Deuteronomy 8:1–3,6–10(17–20)

or 65:9–14 James 1:17–18,21–27

Matthew 6:25–33

Preface of Trinity Sunday


12 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Day

  1. Notwithstanding that today is the commemoration of James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC, the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross we have Thanksgiving Day available for comment.

    This is quite confusing.
    1) This is a feast of the Book of Common Prayer 1979 and is not up for inclusion/exclusion because that would require some Prayer Book revision.
    2) The Revised Common Lectionary, adopted by General Convention 2009, include A, B, and C years for Thanksgiving Day readings. These have been published by Church Publishing in their Lectern and Pew Editions of the Revised Common Lectionary readings.
    A: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18 \ B: Joel 2: 21-27

    2 Corinthians 9: 6-15 1 Timothy 2: 1-7
    Luke 17: 11-19

    • Oops. Too much turkey, I pressed the send button too fast.
      Those lessons are:
      A: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18
      Psalm 65
      2 Corinthians 9: 6-15
      Luke 17: 11-19
      B: Joel 2: 21-27
      Psalm 126
      1 Timothy 2: 1-7
      Matthew 6: 25-35
      C: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
      Psalm 100
      Philippians 4: 4-9
      John 6: 25-35

      So HWHM should be publishing those lections – not the ones listed in the blog or page 701 of the printed edition of HWHM.

      Bio: The 2nd paragraph wades into the differing historical accounts of whether the Pilgrims in Massachusetts or the 1st settlers in Virginia celebrated ‘Thanksgiving’ first. I think it better to rewrite the paragraph to include both traditional accounts, perhaps mentioning the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans who befriended the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and the abject privations endured by the Virginia settlers.

      • Bio: Further, there is considerable merit in mentioning George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamations. The latter is quite poignant as it was offered in the midst of the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, or the War between the States as some may prefer).

        The lections offered in HWHM are those of the BCP, page 925. General Convention 2009’s acceptance of the RCL replaced those formally assigned in the Prayer Book. (Article X(a) of the Constitution and Canons) New editions of the Book of Common Prayer 1979 include the RCL in its entirety and as reflected in RCL Church Publishing lectionaries.

  2. The HWHM/LFF write-up on the American “roots” of the feast is misleading. The VIrginia Thanksgiving of 1619 — the only early one that was intended to be an annual commemoration — died with the massacred settlers of Berekely Plantation in 1622. The “Pilgrim’s” “thanksgiving” had been long forgotten until the rediscovery of Winslow’s account and the publication of Bradford’s journal in 1841 and 1854, respectively. So it’s very difficult to trace a link between those episodes and the present national feast. New York seems to have been the first state to decree an annual day of thanksgiving. That was in 1817, not quite 25 years before anyone referred to the Pilgrims’ affair as the “first thanksgiving.” Lincoln was badged into making his proclamation — from which the annual national feast originates — by the redoubtable Sarah Josepha Hale. His text (like the earlier ones by the Continental Congress, Washington, and Madison) makes no reference to an older observance, whether by Spaniards, Virginians, Pilgrims, Puritans, or New Yorkers.

  3. I, too, would like a more nuanced and historically accurate narrative that includes G. Washington and A. Lincon as well as Virginia and New England.

    My local paper {Harrisonburg (VA) Daily News Record] has just treated us to the totally historically false revisionist version now being touted by Glenn Beck.

  4. The commentary seems to imply that the NE Puritans created this ex nihilo. Not so. By the early 17th century all the English (of whatever stripe of religiousity) were quite used to officially declared days of thanksgiving, especially at the auturmnal “Harvest Home.” The principal difference in America is that it came (and stayed) later than had usually been the case in England. This suggests that some modification in the commentary might be undertaking for future editions.

  5. I find the propers confusing, since the RCL provides differet propers for Thanksgiving Day for Years A, B, & C.
    Are these intended to be a fourth alternative? or What?

  6. Thanksgiving Day
    Since it is, indeed, rooted in the BCP itself (with help from the new lectionary) this discussion is obviously being shared because of people’s sheer respect for the sense of “holy time” and not with expectation that it will change the commemoration details. That said, the discussion is impressive.
    My observations are not about the history of the day in America, but rather puzzlement at the brevity of the write-up. It deserves more ink, more thought, and more scope, as indeed the BCP’s thinking about Rogation Days extended their meaning. While Thanksgiving did begin with a great focus on agriculture, that focus was instrumental and secondary to the overriding blessing of food as key to surviving, preserving life, and carrying on in a new world (new to Europeans, anyway). Life itself, and not just one’s own life or one’s personal family’s life, but the community’s life, deserves to retain its place at the heart of the day. Emphasis on the communal element has largely been lost as Thanksgiving became increasingly a day for families to travel to be together, celebrate together, and to eat together. The exception seems to be those places where the whole community is offered a common feast, even though those who take part are often looked on as unfortunates who lack the necessities to enjoy “their own” Thanksgiving.
    There are also major and important strands to the day, including the historic American proclamations, focusing not on the WHAT of thanks, but TO WHOM. Forgetting the source of creation leads to turning the day into something less than it was meant to be. It becomes instead, either an “I got mine” day (emphasis on self, effectively excluding others), a focus on material advantages (possessions, thus differentiating further distancing “us” from “them”), or even on the mere holiday trappings themselves. And, though we often try to inject an altruistic afterthought into a materialistic framework with an a plea like, “and let us remember those starving today who don’t have the great stuff we do,” it doesn’t really fit believably in a self centered, materialistic, individualized day of Thanksgiving.
    The fact that the Eucharist is another word for Thanksgiving has its place in a Christian presentation of the day, as well. Reminding ourselves to give thanks for the gospel, reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins, for the work and accomplishment of Jesus Christ in history and for the eschatological promises and possibilities of eternal life, all have a place for the Christian community. Obviously, this list could be extended.
    Just to label Thanksgiving a harvest festival, true as that may be to part of its historic origin in this country, hardly begins to touch upon its Christian meaning, or even its original national meaning. A better quality of write-up for this day would be an improvement in LFF/HWHM, even though that’s not what this particular exercise addresses. I know I’d be thankful for it!

    • PS – It would also be informative to know at what point our BCP incorporated a proper for Thanksgiving among the major feasts. (I don’t mean we need to know everything about the General Convention voting that led up to it, rejected, finally accepted it, or who was out of the room buying hoagies and soft pretzles at the time of the vote — just the bottom line about including this as a major feast.)

  7. Matthew 6:25-33 has always struck me as about as unconnected with where the congregation is as Ash Wednesday having the gospel about NOT marking your faces just before having the ashes put on their foreheads. At 10:00 AM most everyone has a turkey in the oven before coming. At 4:00 PM theysit there stuffed. Weird. I’d rather preach on the thing we should be most thankful for. Could be Jesus, birth, ressurection of half a dozen things in between.

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