Why Thanksgiving is a Thursday

Jeramey By Jeramey, 18th Oct 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Culture>Holidays & Celebrations

How did Thanksgiving in America end up being in late November and why is it on a Thursday? There had been a long tradition of individual colonies declaring days of Thanksgiving, and after that there were states that celebrating on their own, but aren't almost all Secular Holidays from the U.S. Government on Mondays?

Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

As all American children learned the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony celebrated Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving took place in the fall of 1621. But the second Thanksgiving took place in July 1623. The first official Thanksgiving happened in Charlestown, Massachusetts Bay Colony on June 29, 1676.

This Charlestown Thanksgiving was on a Monday. In June! Not quite traditional.

The best record for the first Connecticut Thanksgiving in 1721 has it in November 8, which happened to be a Wednesday.

So the holiday was largely in the fall. Sometime in the late-June to mid-November third of the year. But when did it become late November and why and how a Thursday?

Jonathan Belcher and Thanksgiving

Jonathan Belcher, born 1682 died 1757, was governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1730 to 1741, and later the governor of New Jersey from 1747 to 1757.

In 1730 he proclaimed November 12th as a “Day of Thanksgiving” in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

In 1749, he declared November 23rd as another “Day of Thanksgiving” but this time in the colony of New Jersey.

Both the 1730 Massachusetts and New Jersey November Thanksgivings were on Thursdays.

George Washington and Thanksgiving

The Continental Congress declared the first nationwide day of Thanksgiving as Thursday, December 18, 1777 after the victory at the Battle of Saratoga. George Washington issued a proclamation in 1789 – the first year of the United States, whereby he decreed that Thursday, November 26 be the first National Thanksgiving.

Jonathan Belcher, was an influential American patriot and politician and had many friends and friends-of-friends who were among Washington and the other Founding Fathers.

Washington may have been influenced by the New Jersey 1749 proclamation of November 23rd to make his Thanksgiving also a Thursday. There are many similarities between this proclamation and the proclamation issued by Washington in 1789.

Abraham Lincoln and Thanksgiving

Abraham Lincoln, expressed concerned for the safety and psychological well-being of the Americans still at home. In 1863 the Civil War raged on across the nation, turning much of the agricultural land into killing fields. Not everyone had access to or could afford enough to eat.

So, President Lincoln issued a proclamation, that Americans should give thanks for the all the good that there still could be found in the world, in the nation, and in their neighbors.

He declared a new national holiday to be held the last Thursday of November.

Theodore Roosevelt and Thanksgiving

But as have learned quite a few times, just because a President says something, doesn't make it so.

Congress, on the other hand...

After centuries of Thanksgivings, a large number in November and a preponderance on Thursdays, the United States Congress decided to act on the issue in the middle of World War II.

In 1941, Congress decreed that Thanksgiving should be held the fourth Thursday of November. Just like *that* it was official. Who knew it was so complicated?

See also: Saints & Strangers on Nat Geo and Are all national chains closed for Thanksgiving fair employers?

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author avatar Shamarie
18th Oct 2015 (#)

Good work, Jeramey!!!

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author avatar Jeramey
18th Oct 2015 (#)

Thanks, Shamarie!

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author avatar Retired
27th Oct 2015 (#)

It surprises me somewhat that the early New England Pilgrims are still regarded as models to be followed.

They were particularly unpleasant people who had made life so uncomfortable for themselves in England - due to their extreme Puritanism - that they were in severe danger of being lynched if they didn't escape to somewhere else.

They behaved appallingly towards any of their number who didn't obey their rules. It has been said - with considerable justification - they didn't so much seek freedom from persecution as freedom to persecute!

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author avatar Jeramey
27th Oct 2015 (#)

They're not really considered models here in the States, but they are looked at as something of pioneers. As most of the first Europeans were here (meaning all the Americas) for trading and exploiting resources (Vikings, Spaniards, Dutch and most English), the Puritans were the first to gung-ho decide to make a new way of life here, and brought over full families for keeps. The French were kind of a middle ground, but I guess mostly were here for trading.

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