The United States National Holiday of Thanksgiving

Good morning everyone!

I hope those of you who are here with me in the United States, or are overseas either with our armed forces or as an expatriate celebrating Thanksgiving have a wonderful day today!  Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays; it is time to take a breath before I get swept away for the Christmas season, relax with my family and most importantly thank God for the many, many blessings in my life. 

The First Thanksgiving, the Way I "Remember" It

Because it is one of my favorite holidays, I looked up more about the history of Thanksgiving which means, of course, that I am compelled to share this knowledge with you.  No, not the history of the first Thanksgiving; I love that story too much to clutter it with inconvenient historical facts (although I know my share of them).  I prefer to leave my mental image of the grateful Pilgrims with the helpful Indians intact, but will move instead to how Thanksgiving came to be the beloved national holiday that it is today.

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress declared one or more national days of official Thanksgiving, as did George Washington, John Adams and James Madison.  This was not done on a regular basis nationally, and in 1817,  New York became the first state to adopt an official day for  a yearly Thanksgiving holiday.  Several other states followed suit, but each state selected a different day.  In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, who was the editor of first The Ladies Journal and then Godey’s Ladies’ Book until the age of almost 90 (she retired in 1877) and who was the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” began campaigning to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. 

Sarah Josepha Hale

After 36 years of hard campaigning, which included editorials and dozens of letters to governors, presidents, congressmen and senators, her goal was achieved when in 1863 Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as the national holiday of Thanksgiving.  In his proclamation, which was made in the second year of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln asked Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

Dallas Cowboys Helmet

The first Thanksgiving Day parade was held in Philadelphia in 1920; the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924 along with America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit.  In 1934, the Detroit Lions hosted the first of their annual Thanksgiving day games, a tradition that continues even today.  The only years since then that the Detroit Lions haven’t played a Thanksgiving game were in 1939 through 1944 during World War II. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941

Thanksgiving continued to be held every year on the last Thursday of November until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the middle of the Depression, attempted to move it up to the third Thursday in November in an effort to increase holiday retail sales.  This change was incredibly unpopular (some critics called it “Franksgiving”) and in 1941 he reluctantly signed a bill from Congress establishing Thanksgiving as occurring on the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains today.  The Dallas Cowboys began their annual Thanksgiving Day game in 1966.  Then, in 2006, the NFL added a third game to the schedule, completing the slate of Thanksgiving Day football games as we know it today.

Home to Thanksgiving, A Currier and Ives Print

In addition to the national history of the United States’ Thanksgiving holiday, each family has their own traditions as well.  In recent years, Mark’s, Kayla’s and mine has been to go somewhere, just the three of us, either the weekend before or the weekend of Thanksgiving.  If we can, Kayla and I watch the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade together, while I know at the same time my Mom and sisters are probably doing the same wherever they are.  What are some of your family traditions? 

Thanksgiving Turkey

Have a very happy Thanksgiving everyone!


8 responses to “The United States National Holiday of Thanksgiving

  1. Fascinating bit of history especially for non-Americans like me – thanks Nancy. I kept thinking it was the third Thursday rather than the fourth so perhaps I can remember it correctly now! Have a wonderful break and enjoy the parade.

    • Thank you! It was a wonderful break; the only problem with wonderful breaks is that when they end, you wish you could have just a few more days! I didn’t really know it was the fourth Thursday in November either until I looked it up. I also thought it was the last Thursday in November.

  2. Happy Thanksgiving Nancy and family. I enjoyed reading your post, especially as it described things post 1621.

  3. Cool informational post! : ) Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Great read. Blessings to you and your family.

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