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Is Thanksgiving still a major feast?

Is Thanksgiving still a major feast?

The federal Thanksgiving holiday began with President Lincoln’s wartime proclamations to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”  Rooted in earlier observances, especially in the Northeast, American Thanksgiving has clear Christian roots and many churches held worship services to mark the day.


In Pierre, SD, the local Capital Journal newspaper looked at the decline of religious services being offered on Thanksgiving.

“In the past 50 years, traveling to be with family members, watching NFL football games and the Macy’s Parade in New York and the chores of preparing the big meals all compete with attending church for people’s time. Of course, church attendance and membership has gone down in the past 30 years.”


In an admittedly incomplete survey by the paper, they found only two churches holding services on Thanksgiving Day itself in Pierre, and another in a nearby community, while another had a Wednesday night service.

“In Pierre, the Catholic church and the Episcopal church have services on Thanksgiving Day; in Fort Pierre, the Catholic church has a service on Thursday.

Trinity Episcopal Church in Pierre has a Thanksgiving Day Eucharist service at 10 a.m., on Thursday, Nov. 23, in the church at 408 N. Jefferson.

Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church held a Thanksgiving Eve service on Wednesday night.


They did find at least one congregation that hosted was hosting a public Thanksgiving meal.  Like many other church and civic benefit efforts, they found that hosting meals was becoming increasingly difficult due to a lack of volunteers.

Southeast Pierre Mission United Methodist Church holds a community meal each Thursday evening. But not on Thanksgiving Day, when the people who volunteer to put on the meal want to be with their families, said Laurie Bonhorst, banquet coordinator and community outreach staff person for the congregation at 2315 Park.

“Normally we have 300 meals a week, on average,” she said of the Thursday meals. “At least 200 of the meals are in-house. The others are carry-outs.”

But more and more on Thanksgiving Day, “It’s hard to get people to come and put it on,” Bonhorst said.


Has Thanksgiving wholly transcended its Christian origins and become a thoroughly secular holiday; an inclusive day to celebrate family, fellowship and American liberty?


The Episcopal Church lists Thanksgiving Day as a Major Feast among the Holy Days akin to Good Friday and Ash Wednesday.  But perhaps like St Stephen’s Day (also a major Feast) it gets recognized in other ways than a worship service?


What is the practice in your congregation?  Did you attend a worship service on Thanksgiving Day?  What changes have you seen in how Thanksgiving is marked by your community of faith?


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The Rev. Canon Dr. Wilmot T. Merchant, II

Thanksgiving Day is listed among the Major Feast in the Church, but, is the Church just in the “United States”? What doe this mean for The Episcopal Church, since we are NOT a National Church? Are our brothers and sisters in Haiti, celebrating this Major Feast? As an Immigrant, what does this mean for me as an Episcopal Priest? I do have a Thanksgiving Day Service and a luncheon after for the parishioners; anyone is welcomed, but, we do not have the community because there are many places in the community offering lunch. There are more food to give away on Thanksgiving Day than for the month of November. The Day has a very different meaning for me, and it is not historical.

Richard Demarest

At St. Michael’s Cathedral in Boise, ID, we have about two hundred people in attendance for worship at 10 AM Thanksgiving morning. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I encourage our congregation to be there, as we’re giving thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day. We also invite the other two Episcopal congregations to join with us, although the great majority is from the Cathedral community. It works. When I arrived some years ago, we’d get around fifty in attendance. Today, it’s closer to two hundred. Our Cathedral Choir always sings, and some years we’ve had brass. Also, I always invite a special speaker to reflect on what they are grateful about this Thanksgiving. Following the liturgy, we have a full course turkey dinner for everyone who wants to attend.

Sharon Vollers

One of my favorite church days. Sadly our church is in downtown Houston and the annual Thanksgiving day parade has been a growing impediment to having a regular service as the roads around it are closed etc. it seems to be a growing trend to have a service on weds evening instead. Not the same in my opinion.

Cynthia Katsarelis

We don’t always make it to the Thanksgiving Day service because of family commitments with family members who are more secular. I miss it, but peace in the family and delivering the mashed potatoes/turkey, etc., on time takes the priority sometimes. I love the service.

Ann Fontaine

It is not a major feast day of the church. But many churches in Oregon held services either on the Eve or during the day.

Scott Knitter

Sure it’s a major feast; it’s listed under “Other Major Feasts” on p. 17 of the BCP. Equal to a feast of an apostle, St. Michael and All Angels, or St Joseph’s Day, which are all pretty major. It’s supplied with its own Holy Eucharist propers as well as Daily Office propers, and collect.

Ann Fontaine

But only in the US

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