When Is Thanksgiving? Holiday Date, Origin, and Meaning

Discover the Thanksgiving holiday date for 2020 plus the history and meaning of this beloved historical tradition in America. Bonus Bible verses about giving thanks and remembering the blessings of God!

Christianity.com Editorial Staff
When Is Thanksgiving? Holiday Date, Origin, and Meaning

If you were wondering "when exactly is Thanksgiving this year?" you've come to the right place. We all know it's in November, and most remember it's on a Thursday, but which one? Discover below the Thanksgiving holiday date for 2020 plus the history and meaning of this beloved historical tradition in America.

"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" ~ Psalm 107:1

When Is Thanksgiving in 2020?

Thanksgiving Day, as a United States national holiday, is observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November

This year, Thanksgiving will be on Thursday, November 26, 2020.

Thanksgiving was officially set to the fourth Thursday in November in 1939 by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt. LOV.GOV describes the historical context of this Thanksgiving date: 

Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. But that was not always the case. When Abraham Lincoln was president in 1863, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be our national Thanksgiving Day. In 1865, Thanksgiving was celebrated the first Thursday of November, because of a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson, and, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday for Thanksgiving Day. In all other years, until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated as Lincoln had designated, the last Thursday in November.

The American Origins of Thanksgiving

Pilgrims and Puritans who migrated in the early 17th century from England brought the tradition of "Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving" with them to the New World of America. The present Thanksgiving holiday custom is inspired by a notable gathering from 1619 in Virginia and a lesser recorded 1621 festival at Plymouth in modern Massachusetts. 

In 1619, English settlers arrived in Virginia rejoicing a successful journey with a celebration of thanksgiving as directed by the group's charter from the London Company. The charter then ordered that the date of their arrival to Virginia "...shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God." The 1621 Plymouth feast was prompted by a great harvest, which the Pilgrims joined with Native Americans, who helped them get through the preceding winter by providing them food in that time of hardship.

Thanksgiving declarations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the distribution of Thanksgiving proclamations. As President of the United States, George Washington declared the first national thanksgiving observance in America designating November 26, 1789, "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God".

The Bible Meaning of Thanksgiving

The following is an excerpt from our article Meaning of Thanksgiving, "The Bible commands us to give thanks. "Give Thanks" appears in the Bible over 128 times in 62 verses. In the majority of these verses, "Give thanks" is imperative. As believers, we are to actively give thanks to God for who He is and the great things He has done.

The command to give thanks is not based on our circumstances but on who God is. We are to thank God in anticipation of what He can do."

"A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations." Psalm 100:1-5

"I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High." Psalm 7:17

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." James 1:17

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Thank You, Lord God, for this food we are about to eat. Thank You for the hands that have prepared it, for those sitting around the table who are here to share it, and for the ability to be here together under one roof, and enjoy these blessings at Your hand. We realize that everything we have comes from You and for that we are eternally grateful. We also thank You for what we don’t have this year, for we trust that You have withheld in Your goodness and out of Your protection for us. Thank You that Scripture says You are a Good Father who loves to give gifts to Your children. We sit here as evidence of Your goodness. Thank You for the gift of today and all who are here to share it with us. In the name of Your Son, Jesus, we pray. Amen. (Cindi McMenamin - Read more Thanksgiving Prayers)

Thanksgiving Quotes

"Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action." - W.J. Cameron

"Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude." - E.P. Powell

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." - John Fitzgerald Kennedy

"The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings." - Henry Ward Beecher

"The Christian who walks with the Lord and keeps constant communion with Him will see many reason for rejoicing and thanksgiving all day long." - Warren W. Wiersbe

"But Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown." - Marcy


Originally published September 17, 2020.