When Did Thanksgiving Begin? It’s Complicated!

The first “Thanksgiving” was a 3-day harvest festival celebrated by the original English colonists in 1621. After enduring a terrible sea voyage, brutal winter, and multiple deadly diseases, the remaining colonists were thankful that they had survived! Indeed, they wouldn’t have survived a second year if the Wampanoag Indians, whom they invited to the festivities, had been unfriendly. Instead, these Native Americans taught the colonists how to grow corn, extract maple syrup, and, basically, survive in this “new world.” Sadly, the peaceful co-existence between the colonists and Native Americans only lasted one generation (which is a long story for another day).

Over time, various states held festivities and a few of the early presidents, including George Washington, proclaimed national thanksgivings. However, the national holiday we know as Thanksgiving didn’t exist until 200 years after the original one. And it came into existence because of a very determined woman who campaigned 36 years to make it happen!

In 1827 Sarah Josepha Hale, a well-known magazine editor, began petitioning politicians and writing articles to encourage adding Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In 1863, during the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln finally declared two holidays, one in August as a memorial to the Gettysburg Battle and one in November as a general giving of thanks.

Nevertheless, until 1941 the President of the U.S. determined the day to be honored as Thanksgiving each year. Customarily, the fourth Thursday of November was chosen, in keeping with Lincoln’s original November celebration. However, in 1939 F.D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to encourage more shopping (obviously, shopping and Thanksgiving were already closely linked). The American public had a fit over the change! Two years later, Congress passed a bill setting the fourth Thursday of November as the official day of American Thanksgiving.

Nowadays, Thanksgiving evolves around food, family and friends, football…and shopping! Although the foods and activities have greatly changed (watch the video below to see what I didn’t mention), it is still a time to give God thanks for all of our blessings and to enjoy the people that are dear to us. For those reasons, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite American holidays!