WHEN IS THANKSGIVING DAY 2017?
In 2017, U.S. Thanksgiving takes place on Thursday, November 23. (Canadian Thanksgiving was on Monday, October 9.) Here’s a brief history of this all-important feast day—plus, why turkey is traditional and other trivia, weather folklore, crafts, poetry, and more.
Thanksgiving in the United States is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated the second Monday in October.
A BRIEF THANKSGIVING HISTORY
In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.” Washington was in his first term as president, and a young nation had just emerged successfully from the Revolution. Washington called on the people of the United States to acknowledge God for affording them “an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” This was the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution.
Thanksgiving became a yearly tradition in many communities—celebrated on different months and days that suited them. However, Thanksgiving was not a federal government holiday. Thomas Jefferson and subsequent presidents felt that a public religious demonstration of piety was not appropriate for a government type of holiday in a country based in part on the separation of church and state. While religious thanksgiving services continued, there were no further presidential proclamations marking Thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.
In 1863, President Lincoln made a proclamation marking Thursday, November 26, 1863 as Thanksgiving. Lincoln’s proclamation harkened back to Washington’s, as he was also giving thanks to God following a bloody military confrontation. In this case, Lincoln was expressing gratitude to God and thanks to the Army for emerging successfully from the Battle of Gettysburg. He enumerated the blessings of the American people and called upon his countrymen to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the fourth to the third Thursday in November! It was the tail-end of the Depression, and Roosevelt’s goal was to create more shopping days before Christmas and to give the economy a boost. However, many people continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.
In 1941, to end any confusion, the president and Congress established Thanksgiving as a United States federal holiday to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
Read more about Sarah Josepha Hale, the “Godmother of Thanksgiving” who helped turn this historic feast into a national holiday.
Of course, Thanksgiving is not born of presidential proclamations. Native American harvest festivals had been celebrated for centuries, and colonial services dated back to the late 16th century. In the early 1600s, settlers in both Massachusetts and Virginia came together to give thanks for their survival, for the fertility of their fields, and for their faith. The most widely known early Thanksgiving is that of the Pilgrims in Plimoth, Massachusetts, who feasted for 3 days with the Wampanoag people in 1621.
Note that Thanksgiving Day in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday in October and has different origins. The first Canadian Thanksgiving Day was observed on April 15, 1872, to celebrate the recovery of the prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness.
In many North American households today, the Thanksgiving celebration centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends.