In 2017, U.S. Thanksgiving takes place on Thursday, November 23. (Canadian Thanksgiving was on Monday, October 9.) Here’s a brief history of this all-important feast day—plus, why turkey is traditional and other trivia, weather folklore, crafts, poetry, and more.
Thanksgiving in the United States is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated the second Monday in October.
YearU.S. ThanksgivingCanadian Thanksgiving2017Thursday, November 23Monday, October 92018Thursday, November 22Monday, October 82019Thursday, November 28Monday, October 14
A BRIEF THANKSGIVING HISTORY
In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.” 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 became a yearly tradition in many communities—celebrated on different months and days that suited them. However, Thanksgiving was not a federal government holiday. Thomas Jefferson and subsequent presidents felt that a public religious demonstration of piety was not appropriate for a government type of holiday in a country based in part on the separation of church and state. While religious thanksgiving services continued, there were no further presidential proclamations marking Thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.
In 1863, President Lincoln made a proclamation marking Thursday, November 26, 1863 as Thanksgiving. Lincoln’s proclamation harkened back to Washington’s, as he was also giving thanks to 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 and called upon his countrymen to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the fourth to the third Thursday in November! It was the tail-end of the Depression, and Roosevelt’s goal was to create more shopping days before Christmas and to give the economy a boost. However, many people continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.
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.
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. In the early 1600s, 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.
In many North American households today, the Thanksgiving celebration centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends.
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.
See all of our Thanksgiving trivia and fun facts!
Turkey TriviaThe Great Yam ScamCranberry TriviaHistoric Thanksgiving StormsWhy Do We Eat Turkey at Thanksgiving?Why We Can Feel Good Eating Thanksgiving Food!THANKSGIVING WEATHER FOLKLORETurkeys perched on trees and refusing to descend indicates snow.If the first snow sticks to the trees, it foretells a bountiful harvest.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.THANKSGIVING POEMS AND QUOTES
Perhaps these poems and quotes will come in handy for your Thanksgiving card!
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!
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
“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
THANKSGIVING CRAFTSHow to Make a Glove TurkeyHow to Make a Nut WreathHow to Make a Cornhusk DollTHANKSGIVING RECIPESThanksgiving Recipes—including some historically-inspired dishes.Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes—to save you some time on the day-of!How to Cook a Turkey—the basics of cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes—absolutely mouthwatering.Thanksgiving Leftovers—because the leftovers are the best part!
We give thanks to you, 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!
The Old Farmer’s Almanac
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READER COMMENTSLEAVE A COMMENTTHANKSGIVINGreply
Submitted by Prashant onNovember 21, 2017 – 1:48pm
Thanks for the information.
Submitted by Bob on November 20, 2017 – 10:23pm
That American Thanksgiving story is a heck of a long way off from the real story of the first thanksgiving. The natives taught the pilgrims how to live off of the land their way, and how to grow their crops. time to harvest crops came, obviously in October in Canada, and November in the U.S. After harvesting the crops, pilgrims in what’s now known as U.S.A invited natives to a dinner feast and slaughtered them. Washington was president long after the first thanksgiving, even if the slaughter part wasn’t true (and it was). It’s what they teach in school, or at least used to. They probably butter over it now to make things look better than they really were.
WHEN WE CHANGE THE WAY WE LOOK AT THINGS…reply
Submitted by George Szynal onMay 10, 2017 – 9:32am
Give thanks for healthy living and living according to God’s plan. Give thanks!
THANKS ENJOY IT.reply
Submitted by Gail kilgore onNovember 15, 2016 – 3:17am
Thanks enjoy it.
Submitted by charles c okeke onNovember 25, 2015 – 9:43am
There is a need for thanksgiving; only GOD can make a nation great, when you remove God you are left with a shadow
DO ALL STATES CELEBRATEreply
Submitted by Stan Sinfield (UK)on November 30, 2013 – 3:35am
Do all States celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November?
HI STAN, YES, THANKSGIVING INreply
Submitted by Almanac Staff onDecember 2, 2013 – 12:41pm
Hi Stan, Yes, Thanksgiving in the U.S. has been a federal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November since 1941.
AM SO HAPPY THIS YEAR THAT MYreply
Submitted by daniel gita onNovember 27, 2013 – 5:11am
Am so happy this year that my eyes see thankginging again this year make god help us out aman
I BROUGHT UP A FREE CALENDARreply
Submitted by Arlene Ellis on July 30, 2013 – 1:16pm
I brought up a free calendar on my IPad for 365 days a year. While looking up Holidays I ran across Thanksgiving. It was marked the 4th of November 2013 which is a Monday. Someone else had mentioned this date sometime ago. I told them No it is November 28, 2013. By the other responses here they say the same thing. Have you heard this date before, and do they mean 4 for the 4th Thursday?
FOR THE U.S. THANKSGIVING: INreply
Submitted by Almanac Staff onAugust 5, 2013 – 7:34am
For the U.S. Thanksgiving: In 1941 that Congress designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving Day in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday in October.
THE THANKSGIVING CEREMONYreply
Submitted by Johnhenryb onOctober 30, 2012 – 4:19pm
The thanksgiving ceremony first celebrated by the Pilgrims was in obedience to the Old Testament festival specified in Ex 23:16; Le 23:34; and De 29:12 Harvest festivals are common to agricultural societies and though the native Americans in attendance at that precedent setting feast also probably celebrated at the end of harvest, they were guests–not the hosts. Should we restore Biblical literacy, much of our nation’s heritage would become easily understood.
AMEN. I AGREE WITH YOU 100 %.reply
Submitted by Shirley148 onNovember 10, 2012 – 7:28am
Amen. I agree with you 100 %.
UNTOLD PILGRIM HISTORY YOUreply
Submitted by Franklin Redman onNovember 11, 2013 – 3:09pm
Untold Pilgrim History You Might Enjoy
Pilgrims Greeted at Plymouth Rock
Why the Pilgrims Choose Plymouth Rock
I AM CONFUSED. IT SAYSreply
Submitted by Debra H. on October 23, 2012 – 9:14pm
I am confused. It says Thanksgiving is on the last Thursday of the month. But when it falls on the 22 it is not the last Thursday. so explain that plese..
NOWADAYS, THE RULE IS THEreply
Submitted by Almanac Staff onOctober 25, 2012 – 11:01am
Nowadays, the rule is the “fourth Thursday of November,” which is why in 2012 it falls on November 22.
Before 1942, however, the date for Thanksgiving had a confusing history. The “last Thursday of November” was the rule from 1863 to 1939 (except in 1865, when President Andrew Johnson proclaimed the first Thursday in December as Thanksgiving Day, and in 1869, when President Ulysses S. Grant chose November 18, which was the third Thursday in November).
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date to November 23, the next-to-last Thursday of the month, in order to lengthen the holiday shopping season and aid retail businesses. But this caused confusion, and only about half of the states used this new date, while the others kept Thanksgiving on the last Thursday (or celebrated it twice). In December 1941, President Roosevelt signed legislation that designated the fourth Thursday in November as national Thanksgiving Day, to take effect starting in 1942. The date has not changed since that time.
BECAUSE OF LEAP YEAR IT MADEreply
Submitted by ellie on November 13, 2012 – 7:45pm
because of leap year it made november have 5 thursday normally it only has 4 thanksgiving so thanksgiving is on the 4th thursday. which is the 22nd.
THANKSGIVING FALLS ON THEreply
Submitted by Sheila Bearden onNovember 20, 2012 – 1:25pm
Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November not the last Thursday.
THIS IS THE 4 TH THURSDAY INreply
Submitted by jill65 on November 20, 2012 – 1:59pm
This is the 4 th Thursday in November .We have a total of 5th Thursday in November this year.
THE LAST THURSDAY MUST BEreply
Submitted by sierra bearclaw onOctober 22, 2013 – 7:34pm
The last Thursday must be November the 35th I guess.
No, we only have 4 Thursdays and Thanksgiving is the last Thursday this year.
FOURTH THURSDAY IS NOT ALWAYSreply
Submitted by grampabhootie onNovember 21, 2012 – 8:14am
Fourth Thursday is not always the LAST Thursday in any month. Article clearly states the fourth Thursday
THE RULING IS THE 4THreply
Submitted by lafond claude onOctober 11, 2013 – 8:42pm
The ruling is the 4th Thursday on the month of November, not the last if the month has five like in 2012 because the first of November was on a
In Canada we make it simple always the second Monday of October and in some states it is Columbus day. Wish we in Canada had our own day and the US could move Colombus to the 3rd Monday. Look at Congress to make it complicated
MOIST TURKEY, CRISPY SKIN.
Prize winning Pilgrim Turkey recipe.
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