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Caitlin Kennell Kim
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
General Questions
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Ecumenical, Interfaith
Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
Mike Hayes
Our readers asked:

Can you tell me if Thanksgiving has any more religious significance in other religions in the USA?

Neela Kale Answers:

Although Thanksgiving, with its roots in early colonial harvest festivals, is observed as an American civic holiday, the very idea of giving thanks points toward religious celebration. It is to God, first and foremost, that we give thanks. For Catholics, the most appropriate way to observe Thanksgiving is to go to mass: celebrating the Eucharist (a word which means “thanksgiving”) is our great way to offer thanks to God for our many blessings. Other Christians also observe thanksgiving with worship services.

But gratitude to God is a common theme across religious traditions.

For Jewish people, the seven-day fall harvest festival of Sukkot entails giving thanks to God for the gift of the harvest. Though Jewish law prohibits celebration of non-Jewish religious holidays, Jews who consider Thanksgiving to be primarily a secular holiday generally do not hesitate to take part in Thanksgiving celebrations. Some add Jewish content, such as biblical prayers of thanksgiving.

In Islam, gratitude to God is an important part of Eid-ul-Fitr, the feast marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and Eid-al-Adha, the feast which follows the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. With respect to celebrating non-Muslim holidays, interpretations of Islamic law vary widely; however, some American Muslims participate in Thanksgiving celebrations.

Similarly, adherents of Buddhism and Hinduism also encourage gratitude to God and set aside sacred times to celebrate God’s blessings. They do not face prohibitions against participating in Thanksgiving rituals. Anyone inclined to express gratitude to God on the other 364 days a year should find it fitting to do so on a day especially set aside for giving thanks, even though the holiday now has primarily secular trappings.

The Author : Neela Kale
Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
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