Thanksgiving always takes place on a Thursday, and the reason why has now been revealed.
Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday every November, however, it hasn’t always been this way. The earliest Thanksgiving celebrations were also not just a yearly celebration – turkey and all the trimmings more than once-a-year? Count me in!
Melanie Kirkpatrick, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute has revealed just why the American tradition is now celebrated like it is, and the significance of it falling on a Thursday.
Kirkpatrick, who also authored the novel Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience, noted how the earliest Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in the ‘[American] colonies in the 17th century’ and ‘were called for the purpose of giving thanks for a specific blessing’, Time reports.
Instead of having a set date, Thanksgiving would be called when a good event occurred, such as in 1623 when a severe drought came to an end.
However, despite the random nature of celebrating when anything significant occurred, the Thanksgiving celebrations did coincidentally tend to end up taking place on Thursdays.
Diana Karter Appelbaum notes the progression of the decision to hold the day of celebration on a Thursday in her 1984 novel, Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, an American History.
At first no particular day of the week was reserved for Thanksgiving, but some days thought more appropriate than others. Puritans observe the Sabbath as a biblical ordinance and did not intrude their Thanksgivings upon it.
Since Saturday was occupied with preparations for the Sabbath, and Monday was the day just after, these were not convenient choices. Friday was ruled out because it was the fast day of the Catholic Church and any day of prayer held on a Friday would have had Rome-ish overtones.
Instead, Thursday was chosen, ‘perhaps’ because of it being a ‘lecture day in Boston’ where ‘ministers offered afternoon sermons for those with the leisure time to attend weekday religious meetings’. Subsequently, that day of the week became ‘the favorite day for fasts and Thanksgivings. Although other days were occasionally chosen, Thursday became the traditional choice.’
George Washington was noted as making the day of thanks more formal, after he announced on October 3, 1789, that Thursday, November 26, would be a ‘day of public thanksgiving and prayer’.
Thanksgiving was subsequently established as a time for ‘acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness’.
Moreover, in 1789, Washington’s suggestion was implemented, with days of Thanksgiving being declared by state governors for decades after. However, the date did continue to vary.
In the mid-1800s, a letter-writing campaign led by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, called for a ‘Day of National Thanksgiving’ to be assigned to the last Thursday of November.
In 1851, Hale stated:
The last Thursday in November has these advantages — harvests of all kinds are gathered in — summer travellers have returned to their homes — the diseases that, during summer and early autumn, often afflict some portions of our country, have ceased, and all are prepared to enjoy a day of Thanksgiving.
On October 3, President Lincoln granted Hale’s wish, and noted how ‘American people should take some time for gratitude’ while ‘in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity’.
However, Thanksgiving was later moved to the second-to-last Thursday of November by President Roosevelt. Roosevelt thought that having the day of thanks a week earlier would encourage shopping between Labor Day and Christmas and therefore benefit sellers more.
But the decision was met with backlash and governors were left divided over whether it should take place on November 23 or November 30, with 22 in favour of the earlier date, and 23 in favour of the latter.
In 1941, Roosevelt expressed regret over having changed the date and noted that there hadn’t been any real benefit in doing so.
Finally, on December 26, 1941, the fourth Thursday of November was made a Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday after a joint resolution was signed by the FDR and passed in Congress.
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