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The History of Thanksgiving

The history of Thanksgiving starts with a celebration by Pilgrim settlers in 1621. This gathering was in celebration of the harvest and attended by 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans as recorded by those in attendance. The celebration itself was a natural outgrowth of the Days of Prayer common among the New England  settlers of the time. Regular celebrations would continue in the years that followed mainly in the Fall and Winter. However, the tradition had not yet taken on its current status as a yearly holiday and was more of a celebratory occurrence to outside events such as a good harvest.   

The History Of Thanksgiving: During The American Revolution

During the American Revolution the Continental Congress passed Proclamations of Thanksgiving. These holidays did not have a set date or number and Congress proclaimed there should be at least one per year. At this point in its history Thanksgiving was still a celebratory holiday related to outside events and not a unique holiday celebration in its own right. For example General George Washington declared a Thanksgiving in December in 1777 in response to victory over the British at the Battle of Saratoga. Proclamations of Thanksgiving would continue to be passed from 1777 through 1789 by the Continental Congress.    

The History Of Thanksgiving: In The Early United States

Once established as an independent nation President Washington proclaimed the first national sanction of a Thanksgiving holiday on October 3rd, 1789 and again in 1795. Such proclamations would not be yearly or consistent however. With other proclamations issued by various Presidents in 1798,1799, 1814, and two in 1815. However, on the state level local governments had started to set annual days of thanksgiving with 25 states and two United States territories having done so by 1858.   

The History Of Thanksgiving: Lincoln

During Lincoln’s presidency Thanksgiving started to take on its current form as a yearly national holiday recognized by the federal government. In 1863 Lincoln issued a proclamation setting Thanksgiving as occurring on the last Thursday of November. Since 1863 Thanksgiving has been celebrated every year in the United States during the month of November.  

The History Of Thanksgiving: After The Civil War

During the 19th century Thanksgiving started to take on many of its now recognized traditions. Turkey and pumpkin pie had become common Thanksgiving foods. Also football started to become associated with the holiday in the late 19th century with high school games and professional games being played on Thanksgiving.

The History Of Thanksgiving: The 20th Century To The Present

A key area of debate in the middle of the 20th century was setting an official legally recognized date for the holiday itself. Lincoln’s proclamation was not legally binding and was followed simply as tradition. In 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt broke with the tradition of having Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of the month of November by having it on the second to last Thursday that year. Despite November in 1939 having five Thursdays the intended goal was to have Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday of November every year. Tradition being what it is (and the date change not being legally enforced) this lead to some states having Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of the month, others second to last, and some treating both Thursdays as holidays. On October 6th, 1941 the US Congress passed a bill setting the date of Thanksgiving. Later amended in December of that year Thanksgiving was set to the fourth Thursday every November. Now a matter of federal law Thanksgiving has been set on this day ever sense.     


StuyTown wishes you and your family a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.