The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day for Christians

For many, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family, good friends, and even better food. But, on this special day that is all about gratitude and thanks, it’s time to take it back to the basics and remember who we have to thank most of all—Jesus.

Chris Holland
October 19, 2022
Kids Ministry Leadership

What Thanksgiving Means in the Church

For many, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family, good friends, and even better food. But, on this special day that is all about gratitude and thanks, it’s time to take it back to the basics and remember who we have to thank most of all—Jesus. 

Don’t lose the true meaning of Thanksgiving day in the mountains of food and endless games—remember to focus on the thanksgiving meaning in the Bible and take the opportunity to reconnect with God. Keep reading for an outline of the Christian meaning of Thanksgiving and the best practices to follow.

When Is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving and fall decorations outside

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States that falls on the last Thursday of November each year. This year, in 2022, it will fall on November 24th in the US. Canada also has a national holiday called Thanksgiving, but they celebrate it on the second Monday in October instead.

What Is the Point of Thanksgiving?

Give thanks

The meaning of Thanksgiving day is centered on gratitude, urging people to look inward at what they have instead of outwards at what they want. From the food on our plates to the people around us, this holiday urges us to be content.

What Is the Meaning of Thanksgiving?

Woman feeling gratitude during thanksgiving

For Christians, Thanksgiving Day is a chance to ask God for forgiveness for our sins, repent for our disobedience, and express gratitude for all He has given us. President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 during the civil war—read more about it here

In his speech, Lincoln outlines the thanksgiving meaning as a day: 

“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.”

That’s why, for Christians, this special day is about more than good food shared among friends—it’s about singing the Lord’s praises. He created everything we enjoy in this world, and all good comes through His grace.

The Deeper History of Thanksgiving 

Native American indian man

But Lincoln didn’t speak the holiday into existence. We can follow its roots back all the way to 1621 when the Plymouth Colony settlers and the Wampanoag people supposedly shared a meal in celebration of the harvest. 

The year that followed was bleak for these colonizers, as they suffered through a cruel New England winter that saw the passing of half of the Mayflower’s 102 passengers. But fortunately, a bountiful Harvest blessed them the following fall, offering a much-needed miracle.

Now, this festival is celebrated annually to thank God for sending another bountiful harvest, feeding hungry mouths, and letting the people of the United States thrive. Today, the meaning of thanksgiving day is about staying humble and remembering our ancestors' struggles.

Thanksgiving for Native Americans

Native American doing traditional dance

No telling of the Thanksgiving story would be complete without recognizing the tragedy that accompanied the ship full of British colonizers. With them, came many diseases like smallpox and yellow fever that the Native American people had not encountered.

Once prosperous and thriving, the Wampanoag suffered enormously at the hands of these diseases during a period known as the “Great Dying,” which lasted for three years. Research shows that around 55 million Native American people died from violence and extreme exposure to a plethora of unknown deadly pathogens. 

This staggeringly large number means Thanksgiving Day is a time for mourning for many people. We are all God’s children, so include a prayer for the lost souls of this tragedy. Without the help of the Wampanoag people, the United States would not be what it is today.

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving

Celebrating thanksgiving with family

On a deep level, the spiritual meaning of Thanksgiving is that everything can regenerate and restore. Even within bleak and devastating moments, there is a glimmer of hope, and we can always look to God to guide us. 

Dedicate some time to understanding the meaning of Thanksgiving in the Bible by reciting some of these prayers. Read scripture about His grace and sing songs that chant his praises. Staying humble and being grateful is essential, so use this day to feel the power of thanks.

Spend the day cooking incredible food for your family, but make sure you say Grace before you eat. Take the opportunity to mourn the suffering of the Wampanoag people and donate to preserve their culture here. Pray for the souls of every single one of God’s children who passed, whether Native American or Pilgrim.


Sharing thanksgiving with the community

Don’t forget the meaning of Thanksgiving day as you engage in the festivities, and keep gratitude at the forefront of everything you do. Ask yourself if you could be doing more to help the community around you, as you could have more to share than you think. 

What Thanksgiving means (in a religious Christianity Thanksgiving context) is simple. Just like anyone who celebrates this holiday, Christians will spend their time saying thank you for the food on their table and the people around them. But most importantly, give thanks to the Lord.

Remember the people out there who cannot afford a hot meal this Thanksgiving, and do what you can. Lend a helping hand through this project by Feeding America, which includes tips on how to volunteer this Thanksgiving.

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