Thanksgiving

Categories:National Holidays
Jim Bolinger

Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day, presently celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, has been an annual tradition in the United States since 1863. It did not become a federal holiday until 1941.

The holiday’s origins can be traced to harvest festivals which have been celebrated in many cultures since ancient times, the American holiday is tied to the deliverance of the English settlers by Native Americans after the harsh winter at Plymouth, Massachusetts and that event has become the preeminent foundation story for English North America.

The First Thanksgiving was celebrated to give thanks to God and the Native Americans for helping the pilgrims survive the brutal winter. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three whole days providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Indians. The traditional Thanksgiving menu features turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. However on the first feast the foods included duck, geese, venison, fish, lobster, clams, swan, berries, dried fruit, pumpkin, squash, and many more vegetables.

The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777: It is recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise.

In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863.

On October 6, 1941 both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942. However, in December of that year the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution that split the difference by requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes the next to last. On December 26, 1941 President Roosevelt signed this bill, for the first time making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law.