The tradition of reserving a special day for giving thanks to good fortune, health and family has been around since before the founding of the United States of America and Canada. Students are taught from an early age in school that the holiday dates back to the 1600’s in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The pilgrims who had newly colonized the area were learning how to survive but the winter’s were harsh and they were finding it difficult to have enough food to survive through it. The nearby Wampanoag tribe gave seeds to the pilgrims and taught them how to fish thus giving the pilgrims hope. They came together in celebration and this became known as the first Thanksgiving. Some historians argue that the first celebration was actually in Saint Augustine, Florida by the Spanish in 1565 but the current national holiday of Thanksgiving is based on the feast held by the pilgrims and the Wampanoag
Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1789 when President George Washington declared it would be held on November 26. But it was not until the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb,” Sarah Josepha Hale, advocated for the holiday to be celebrated annually and with the help of President Abraham Lincoln who issued the Thanksgiving Proclamation achieved her goal of a holiday to bring the country together during the time of the civil war.
Part of the proclamation reads, “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”(President Abraham Lincoln, Thanks Giving Proclamation)
The date of thanksgiving was to be set on the last Thursday of the month of November which stayed true to the original set by George Washington until it fell on November 30 during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The year was 1939 and retailers were not happy because they believed that they had lost an extra week that consumers could devote to shopping for Christmas. They encouraged President Roosevelt to move it up and his Thanksgiving Proclamation set it to November 23 but there were problems because it now meant that calenders were wrong and it caused a lot of rescheduling problems for Americans. Even football games had to be rescheduled so that they would fall on the holiday. It was such a national headache that opponents of the president declared the day Franksgiving and refused to change the date of thanksgiving from the original November 30 date. Only 23 states actually changed it to November 23.
The irony of the whole situation is that the retailers were wrong about consumers and having that extra week did not cause them to shop more like they hoped.
The next year President Roosevelt did the same thing but not all states went along so like 1939 there ended up being two holidays. To fix this messy situation, Congress passed a law in 1941 declaring that Thanksgiving would always be on the fourth Thursday of November. And that is the story of how Thanksgiving came to be.