Origins of Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving Day in the United States is an
annual day of thanks for the blessings of the past year, observed on the fourth Thursday
in November in each of the states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. It is a
historical, national, and religious holiday that began with the Pilgrims. After the
survival of their first colony through the bitter winter, and the gathering of the
harvest, Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Colony issued a thanksgiving
proclamation in the autumn of 1621. This first thanksgiving lasted three days, during
which the Pilgrims feasted on wild turkey and venison with their Indian guests.
Days of thanksgiving were celebrated
sporadically until, on November 26, 1789, President Washington issued a proclamation of a
nation-wide day of thanksgiving. He made it clear that the day should be one of prayer and
giving thanks to God. It was to be celebrated by all religious denominations, a
circumstance that helped to promote a spirit of common heritage.
Credit for establishing this day as a
national holiday is usually given to Sarah J. Hale, editor and founder of the
Ladies' Magazine (from 1828) in Boston. Her editorials in the magazine and letters to
President Lincoln urging the formal establishment of a national holiday of thanksgiving
resulted in Lincoln's proclamation in 1863, designating the last Thursday in November as
the day. Succeeding presidents annually followed his example, except for President
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1939 proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a week earlier--on the
fourth but not the last Thursday--to encourage holiday shopping. In 1941, Congress adopted
a joint resolution setting the date on the fourth Thursday.