When is Thanksgiving 2024? Traditions, History, and Recipes

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a group of friends gathered around a thanksgiving table with a turkey and wine

Spending Thanksgiving with friends!

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What You Need to Know about Thanksgiving in America

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Why was Thanksgiving proclaimed a day of honor by both Washington and Lincoln? No, it’s not about a Pilgrim feast. (Speaking of Pilgrims, whatever happened to them?) Learn more about the meaning of Thanksgiving, plus find history, trivia, quotes, and more.

When Is Thanksgiving 2024?

The United States celebrates Thanksgiving as a national holiday on the fourth Thursday in November. In 2024, Thanksgiving will be observed on Thursday, November 28. This is the LATEST that Thanksgiving can ever be held.

Thanksgiving has been held on the fourth Thursday in November since 1941, which means that the actual date of the holiday shifts each year. The earliest Thanksgiving can occur is November 22; the latest is November 28.

President Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the fourth Thursday to the third Thursday in November in 1938. However, this was not a very popular move. (Read more about this story below.)

In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. In 2024, it is observed on Monday, October 14. Read more about Canadian Thanksgiving here!

Thanksgiving Dates
YearU.S. ThanksgivingCanadian Thanksgiving
2024Thursday, November 28Monday, October 14
2025Thursday, November 27Monday, October 13
2026Thursday, November 26Monday, October 12
2027Thursday, November 25Monday, October 11

History of Thanksgiving

Native Americans in North America celebrated harvest festivals for centuries before Thanksgiving was formally established in the United States. Colonial services for these festivals date back to the late 16th century. The autumnal feasts celebrated the harvest of crops after a season of bountiful growth.

In the 1600s, settlers in Massachusetts and Virginia had feasts to thank for surviving, fertile fields, and their faith. The Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, had their infamous Thanksgiving feast in 1621 with the Wampanoag Native Americans.

This three-day feast is considered the ”first” Thanksgiving celebration in the colonies. However, there were other recorded ceremonies of thanks on these lands. In 1565, Spanish explorers and the local Timucua people of St. Augustine, Florida, celebrated a mass of thanksgiving. In 1619, British settlers proclaimed a day of thanksgiving when they reached a site known as Berkeley Hundred on the banks of Virginia’s James River.

Of course, the idea of “thanksgiving” for the harvest is as old as time, with records from the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Native American cultures, too, have a rich tradition of giving thanks at harvesttime feasts, which began long before Europeans appeared on their soil. And well after the Pilgrims, for more than two centuries, individual colonies and states celebrated days of thanksgiving.

Colorful corn for thanksgiving decor

How Did the Pilgrims Come to Settle Here?

Initially, when certain men and women of Scrooby, England, were persecuted for separating themselves from the Church of England, they, as Pilgrims, fled to Leiden, Holland. Upon the execution of separatist leader James of Barneveld there on May 13, 1619, they realized that Holland was no freer than England and prepared to go to America.

On July 20, 1620, after putting their plans into effect, they asked for the parting words of their beloved pastor, John Robinson. The next day, they boarded the ship Speedwell, anchored where the canal from Leiden, then entered the Maas (or Meuse, a river flowing into the North Sea) at Delfshaven, and sailed for Southampton, England.

After misadventures and more farewells, these brave 102 souls departed on the Mayflower on September 6, 1620.

Mayflower pilgrims. Image by Photos.com/Getty Images
Image by Photos.com/Getty Images

The Mayflower arrived at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the tip of a curved peninsula later named Cape Cod, on November 21 and, on that day, drew up one of the most significant documents of American history, the Mayflower Compact. The Compact was a constitution formed by the people—the beginning of popular government.

They then explored the lands along the bay formed by the peninsula. On December 22, after holding the first town meeting in America to decide where to build their homes, the Pilgrims went onshore at a site now called Plymouth Rock. There, on the shore above the rock, they settled. After 400 years, their descendants and those of the Puritans are still sailing along.

What Ever Happened to the Pilgrims?

The following highlights reveal what has transpired for the Pilgrims, their Puritan contemporaries, and the descendants of both.

  • 1621: Over dinner with some of their Native American guests, gave thanks for their welfare
  • 1621: Built a meetinghouse
  • 1634: Forbade wearing gold and silver lace
  • 1639: Started a college (Harvard)
  • 1640: Set up a printing press
  • 1647: Hanged a “witch” (Alse Young—the first person to be executed for witchcraft in the Thirteen Colonies) 
  • 1704: Printed the first newspaper, in Boston
  • 1721: Were inoculated for smallpox
  • 1776: Again declared themselves to be free and independent
  • 1792: No doubt purchased the 1793 first edition of Robert B. Thomas’s Farmer’s Almanac. Today known as The Old Farmer’s Almanac, this book is North America’s oldest continuously published periodical.

Thanksgiving Becomes a National Holiday

The first national celebration of Thanksgiving was observed in honor of the creation of the new United States Constitution! In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 of that year as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” to recognize the role of providence in creating the new United States and the new federal Constitution.

Washington was in his first term as president, and a young nation had just emerged successfully from the Revolution. 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.” This was the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution.

Thanksgiving Becomes a Federal Holiday

While Thanksgiving became a yearly tradition in many communities—celebrated on different months and days that suited them—it was not yet a federal government holiday.

Thomas Jefferson and many subsequent presidents felt that a public religious demonstration of piety was not appropriate for a government type of holiday in a country based partly on the separation of church and state. While religious Thanksgiving services continued, no further presidential proclamations marked Thanksgiving until the Civil War of the 1860s.

It wasn’t until 1863, during the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

A Depiction of Thanksgiving Day, 1858, by Winslow Homer. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
A depiction of Thanksgiving in 1858, by Winslow Homer. 
Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

Thanksgiving is observed on the last Thursday in November

President Lincoln proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1863, as Thanksgiving. Lincoln’s proclamation harkened back to Washington’s, as he also thanked God following a bloody military confrontation.

In this case, Lincoln was expressing gratitude to God and thanks to the Army for emerging successfully from the Battle of Gettysburg. He enumerated the blessings of the American people. He called upon his countrymen to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” As of that year, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving is briefly moved to the third Thursday in November.

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second to the last Thursday. It was the tail-end of the Depression, and Roosevelt’s goal was to create more shopping days before Christmas and boost the economy. However, many people continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November, unhappy that the holiday’s date had been meddled with. You could argue, however, that this helped create the shopping craze known as Black Friday.

In 1941, to end any confusion, the president and Congress established Thanksgiving as a United States federal holiday to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, which is how it stands today!

Of course, Thanksgiving was not born of presidential proclamations. Read about Sarah Josepha Hale, the “Godmother of Thanksgiving,” who helped turn this historic feast into a national holiday.

How Is Thanksgiving Different in Canada?

Thanksgiving Day in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday in October and has different origins than the American version of the holiday. The first Thanksgiving meal observed in what is now Canada occurred in 1578 when English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew held a meal to thank God for granting them safe passage through the wilds of the New World.

Today, Canadians often visit with family and friends to celebrate. The Thanksgiving food traditions tend to be similar to their American neighbors: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and cranberry sauce are traditional. Add some maple syrup for another Canadian twist! See some Maple Syrup recipes.  

Canadian football is on the television, and many Canadians get outside for a nice hike or ramble in the woods since the weather has not yet changed for the worse. Everyone is thankful for the harvest!

Read more about the differences between Canadian and American Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving greeting card two kids on a pumpkin with a turkey

Thanksgiving Traditions and Rituals

Today, folks celebrate Thanksgiving for a multitude of reasons. For some, it remains a way to express gratitude for the harvest, for family, or to a higher power; for others, it’s a holiday built upon being united as a family (in person or virtually!) and sharing in a special meal.

a group of friends zooming with a computer over thanksgiving feast
Zooming with relatives last Thanksgiving! 
Credit: Dean Drobot

A bountiful feast featuring turkey has become the traditional Thanksgiving fare, with over 90% of Americans eating the bird on this holiday. But did you know that turkey was a rare treat at one time? During the 1830s, an eight- to ten-pound bird cost a day’s wages!

Even though turkeys are much more affordable today, they remain a celebratory symbol of bounty. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin ate roast turkey in foil packets for their first meal on the Moon. Do you think they had mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce?

The turkey may or may not have been offered when the Pilgrims hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. Read about what the Pilgrims ate and why we eat turkey today.

Other common Thanksgiving traditions in the United States include volunteering for those less fortunate by donating food or time to homeless shelters or those in need. Sometimes, communities hold “turkey trot” runs or parades. And the president of the United States and some U.S. governors will often “pardon” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year.

See some of our Thanksgiving trivia and fun facts:

Thanksgiving Controversy

Based on historical records, the shared feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people was bountiful and peaceful. It was a celebratory feast hosted by Pilgrims who invited their Native American allies in sincere gratitude for a successful harvest after much starvation. It’s also a story of cooperation, trust, and peace. Giving thanks was a longstanding and central tradition among both parties.

However, history doesn’t exist in isolation. If we pull back, this was not just about a friendly harvest festival but had much to do with political alliances, diplomacy, and the pursuit of peace. If we pull back even further, this is also the story of foreign settlers coming to immigrate to territories widely inhabited by native peoples—a long history of bloody conflict, strife, death, and wartime between Native Americans and European settlers seeking to colonize lands.

History is a rich, interwoven, never-ending book about which we can all learn more. To gain a complete understanding of events, it is important to research the context. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has some excellent resources about the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday for American Indians.

weather folklore, chicken and turkey feathers

Thanksgiving Weather Folklore

  • Turkeys perched on trees and refusing to descend indicates snow.
  • If the first snow sticks to the trees, it foretells a bountiful harvest in the coming year.
  • If sheep feed facing downhill, watch for a snowstorm.
  • Thunder in November indicates a fertile year to come.
  • If there be ice in November that will bear a duck, there will be nothing thereafter but sleet and muck.
  • As November 21st, so the winter.
  • When the winter is early, it will not be late.

The term “Indian summer” refers to warm weather between November 11 and 20. Read more about Indian summers.

traditional thanksgiving feast with turkey, rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, green beans
The traditional Thanksgiving feast. Yum!
Photo Credit: Brent Hofacker/Getty Images

Thanksgiving Food: Dinner, Sides, Desserts

Is it your turn to prepare the Thanksgiving meal? Here are a few of our favorite Thanksgiving dinner recipes to give you some inspiration:


Thanksgiving Crafts for Kids & Adults

Perfect for kids and great for decorating the home, these holiday crafts are easy and fun!

Happy Thanksgiving image with a feast and a table setting
Credit: Alexander Raths

Thanksgiving Poems and Quotes

Perhaps these poems and quotes will come in handy for your Thanksgiving card!  

Ah! On Thanksgiving Day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South, come the pilgrim and guest,
What moistens the lip, and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past like the rich pumpkin pie
J. G. Whittier  

Over the river and through the wood—   
Now grandmother’s cap I spy!        
Hurrah for the fun!        
Is the pudding done?   
Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!
–Lydia Maria Child

Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway—
Thanksgiving comes again!

“An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day.” –Irv Kupcinet, American columnist (1912–2003)

“Radical historians now tell the story of Thanksgiving from the point of view of the turkey.” –Mason Cooley, U.S. aphorist 

Happy Thanksgiving!

We give thanks to you and our Almanac community, and wish you a Thanksgiving feast that is both filling and full of grace this year!

What Thanksgiving traditions do you follow in your family? Let us know in the comments!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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