15. Holy Days or Holidays?
What About National Holidays Like Thanksgiving, Purim and Hanukkah?
Since so many religious holidays have pagan roots, are all modern holidays suspect? What about national holidays such as Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada, and the Jewish national holidays of Purim and Hanukkah?
Both of these holidays [Purim and Hanukkah] were established to give thanks to God, just as the American and Canadian Thanksgiving days are. Though some modern customs of these days may not be pleasing to God, they are not rooted in paganism and do not subvert any of the truths presented in the festivals of God.
From Holidays to Holy Days: God's Plan for You, COGWA Booklet
Are these assessments of Thanksgiving accurate? Does the historical evidence support our belief about pagan customs in Thanksgiving? Is Thanksgiving really about giving honor to God? Does Thanksgiving not replace any of God's Holy Days?
What About Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Purim?
Important differences in the background and intent of these observances are obvious when we compare them to Christmas, Easter and Halloween.
In their original form, Hanukkah and Purim, like the American holiday of Thanksgiving, are celebrations of thanks and honor to God for His intervention and blessings. The way some Americans celebrate Thanksgiving is far removed from the original intent, but that does not alter the real meaning and significance of the day. An important distinction between acceptable holidays and those rooted in paganism (like Christmas and Easter) is that they do not alter, replace or distort the meaning of a festival of God or other biblical truths.
Holy Days or Holidays: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep? UCG Booklet
Often, historians view God's holy days as part of the origins of Thanksgiving.
The custom of communal thanksgiving was practiced by the Cannanites of biblical times. During the Feast of Tabernacles, everyone lived in booths or tents in memory of the years when their nation had no settled home. The book of Judges says: “And they went out into the field, and gathered their vineyards, and trode the grapes and held festival and went into the house of their god and did eat and drink.”
In ancient Greece, a harvest festival, called the Thesmorphia, was a feast of Demeter, goddess of harvests. It was celebrated in Athens in November by the married women only. Their procession led to the temple of Demeter outside the city, where three days of thanksgiving were observed. The women then returned to Athens for a three-day festival.
The Romans held a festival of Ceres in October that worshiped their harvest deity. She was offered a sow and the first cuttings of the harvest. Music and sports were part of the festival.
“I Never Knew That About Thanksgiving!” It's an Old Custom
Thanksgiving An American Holiday, An American History, Diana Applebaum 1985
Harvest and celebration have always gone together, ever since pagan times.
In ancient Athens the Greeks honored Demeter, the goddess of grain, at the festival of Thesmorphia. The Romans held an annual thanksgiving banquet to their harvest deity, Ceres; and the Israelites built huts with the earth's bounty during Sukkoth, or the feast of Tabernacles. Egypt under the Pharaoh reveled in music, dance, and sports honoring Min, the god of vegetation and fertility.
The Thanksgiving Ceremony, Edward Bleier
Succos is a thanksgiving for the harvest, ...
One of the earliest harvest feasts about which we know was celebrated by the Hebrews more than three thousand years ago. It was called the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, and still is celebrated in September by Jewish people. It is often called Succos. The book of Deuteronomy in the Bible gives plans for this happy season of thanksgiving to God, of family gatherings, feasting, sharing with the poor and lonely. The people were told, “Rejoice in your feast... be altogether joyful.”
Ancient Greeks held a harvest festival to Demeter whom they believed to be the goddess of agriculture. They offered fruit, honeycombs, and other gifts. Romans called their harvest goddess Ceres and celebrated her festival, Cerelia, in October.
Thanksgiving Feast and Festival, compiled by Mildred Corell Luckhardt (emphasis added)