Fourth Thursday in November
A day set aside each year for giving thanks to God for blessings received during the year.
History and Old Observance
The American Thanksgiving Day holiday (hereafter called T-Day) probably grew out of the harvest-home celebrations of England.
The first T-Day observance in America was entirely religious and did not involve a feast. On December 4, 1619 a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation on the James River near what is now Charles City, Virginia. They came to an area unhabitated by other Europeans. The people living there were Native Americans, the people most Americans refer to as American Indians. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God.
The first T-Day in New England was celebrated in Plymouth less than a year after the Plymouth colonists had settled in America. The first dreadful winter in Massachusetts had killed about half the members of the colony. But new hope arose in the spring of 1621 when the settlers, with advice and help from the Iroquois Indians, planted corn (known also as maize) and other crops. In October 1621, Governor William Bradford arranged a harvest festival to give thanks to God for the progress the colony had made. The local Indian chief and 90 Indians attended it, and they taught the settlers how to cook cranberries, squash, corn and even popcorn.
The festival lasted three days and featured, among many other foods, wild turkey, which is native to North America. Similar harvest T-Days were held in Plymouth during the next several years, but no traditional date was set. The tradition spread from Plymouth to other New England colonies. During the Revolutionary War, eight special days of thanks were observed for victories and from being saved from dangers.
After the US became an independent country, Congress recommended one yearly day of T, for the whole nation to celebrate.
1789 President George Washington proclaimed November 26, a day of National Thanksgiving. In the same year, the Protestant Episcopal Church announced that the 1st Thursday in November would be a regular yearly day for giving thanks.
For many years the country had no regular national T-Day, however some states had a yearly T-holiday.
By 1830 New York had an official state T-Day, and other Northern states soon followed its example.
1855 Virginia became the nation’s first Southern state to adopt the custom.
1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father, on the urging of Mrs. Sarah J. Hale, editor of the Godey’s Lady’s Book.
1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt set it one week earlier. He wanted to help businesses by lengthening the shopping period before Christmas. Congress ruled that after 1941 the 4th Thursday of November would be observed as T-Day and would be a federal public holiday, proclaimed by the President each year.
People give thanks with a feast and prayer. T-Day is usually a family day with joyous reunions, celebrated with a traditional T dinner. It usually includes roast turkey and cranberry sauce, plus sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. Many families like to share the day with others, inviting to their dinner foreign students, military people stationed far from home and people who have no families. It is also a time for serious religious thinking, church services and prayer. Many Americans also show increased concern for the poor. Charitable organizations and churches provide food or serve dinners for the needy.