Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving Day (U.S.)? When was Thanksgiving first recognized as a national holiday? Here’s a brief history of this all-important American holiday.
Thanksgiving in the United States is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated the second Monday in October.
|Year||U.S. Thanksgiving||Canadian Thanksgiving|
|2016||Thursday, November 24||Monday, October 10|
|2017||Thursday, November 23||Monday, October 9|
|2018||Thursday, November 22||Monday, October 8|
In a 1789 proclamation, President George 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” by observing a day of thanksgiving. Devoting a day to “public thanksgiving and prayer,” as Washington called it, became a yearly tradition in many communities.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863. In that year, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. He asked his fellow citizens to “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise …”
It was not until 1941 that Congress finally designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day, thus creating a federal holiday. 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. Thanksgiving Day, as we know it today, began in the early 1600s when 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.
Why is Thanksgiving Celebrated With Turkey?
Turkey has become the traditional Thanksgiving fare because at one time it was a rare treat. During the 1830s, an eight- to ten-pound bird cost a day’s wages. Even though turkeys are affordable today, they still remain a celebratory symbol of bounty. In fact, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin ate roast turkey in foil packets for their first meal on the Moon.
How much do you know about our native all-American bird? See more Turkey Trivia—and test your fellow Thanksgiving diners.
Thanksgiving Recipes and Ideas
- While you’re here, take a peek at our list of Thanksgiving Recipes—including some historically-inspired dishes.
- The best part of a Thanksgiving meal is often the leftovers! See our recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers.
- In need of a Thanksgiving table decoration? Try making a glove turkey!