until November 23, 2017
Thanksgiving Facts and History
Thanksgiving is a national holiday that is celebrated every year in the United States. A similar holiday is also observed in Canada, Grenada and Liberia. Normally celebrated with a large meal, the holiday has its roots in giving thanks for the harvest and has grown to become a day for being thankful for all of life’s blessings.
When is Thanksgiving?
In the United States and its territories, Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, so its exact date changes every year. The timing of Thanksgiving about one month before Christmas has led to the holiday being considered the official start of the holiday season. Many people begin to decorate for Christmas once Thanksgiving has passed, and it’s common for Americans to say “the holidays” to refer to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
History of Thanksgiving
The concept of giving thanks for the harvest has pagan roots. In ancient times, many civilizations held celebrations to thank their gods for a bountiful harvest.
In the United States, the tradition of holding a Thanksgiving dinner began with the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The story goes that the Pilgrims faced starvation during the winter of 1620 and only managed to survive with the help of the local Native Americans, who subsequently taught them how to cultivate crops. After their first successful harvest in 1621, the Pilgrims held a 3-day feast and invited the Native Americans to join them at the table. This is generally considered the first Thanksgiving in the United States.
The tradition of having an annual harvest feast continued in the United States during the Colonial period and also during the Revolutionary War. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, national and state-wide days of Thanksgiving were declared by proclamation, and during the year 1863, President Lincoln decided the last Thursday of November would be the chosen date to celebrate Thanksgiving.
It wasn’t until 1863 that the idea of holding Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November came into being. Sarah Joseph Hale, a newspaper editor, is credited with the idea, and espoused its benefits through a series of editorials. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the day a national day of Thanksgiving, and every President after him followed with the exception of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1941, an act of Congress set the date permanently as the final Thursday of November.
Modern Thanksgiving Celebrations
Some common features of modern Thanksgiving celebrations in the U.S. include:
- A Family Meal: Families typically get together for a meal that includes roast turkey and stuffing. Mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie are often served along with the meal. Often, homes are decorated with pumpkins and gourds, turkeys, Pilgrims and other symbols of the holidays.
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Since 1924, Macy’s department store has sponsored the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The event takes place in Manhattan and is known for its large balloons. Roughly 3.5 million people come to see the parade live and roughly 50 million Americans watch it on TV.
- Football: The National Football League typically holds a series of football games on Thanksgiving Day, and many families will spend the day watching the action.
- Shopping: The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year and is known as Black Friday. In recent years, retailers have begun their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving. While the move is controversial, many people are now taking advantage of the stores being open to begin their holiday shopping.