An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Thanksgiving Day

A national holiday and day of thanks. Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in Nov. This custom is based on the celebration of three days of prayer and feasting by the Plymouth, Massachusetts, colonists in 1621. There was also a Thanksgiving celebration with prayer by members of the Berkeley plantation, near what is now Charles City, Virginia, in 1619. The first national Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in 1789. Under President Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving Day came to be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of Nov. Thanksgiving Day was celebrated on the third Thursday of Nov. in the three years 1939-1941 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, the Thanksgiving Day commemoration was moved back to the fourth Thursday in Nov. by Congress in 1941.

Thanksgiving Day is a major holy day and a national day in the Prayer Book calendar of the church year (pp. 16-17, 33). The Proposed Prayer Book of 1786 included “A Form of Prayer and Thanksgiving to Almighty God, for the Fruits of the Earth, and all the other Blessings of his merciful Providence.” The first American Prayer Book (1789) replaced the four national days of the 1662 English book with propers for Thanksgiving Day. The collect for Thanksgiving Day gives thanks to God the Father for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. It asks that we may be faithful stewards of God's great bounty, providing for our own necessities and the relief of all who are in need (BCP, p. 246). Hymns for Thanksgiving Day in The Hymnal 1982 include “Praise to God, immortal praise” (Hymn 288), “Come, ye thankful people, come” (Hymn 290), and “We plow the fields, and scatter” (Hymn 291). The Hymnal 1982 Accompaniment Edition, Vol. 1, provides musical settings for a Litany of Thanksgiving for a Church (S 391; see BCP, pp. 578-579) and a Litany of Thanksgiving (S 392; see BCP, pp. 836-837). The Litany of Thanksgiving may be used on Thanksgiving Day in place of the prayers of the people at the eucharist, or at any time after the collects at Morning or Evening Prayer, or separately.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.