Thanksgiving Day History (U.S.)

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day, national holiday in the United States commemorating the Pilgrims' celebration of the harvest reaped by the Plymouth Colony in 1621, after a winter of great starvation and privation. The celebration was probably held in October. The neighboring Wampanoags, who outnumbered the colonists, joined them for three days and contributed food to the celebration. The first proclaimed day of thanksgiving in the colony was not held until 1623 (probably at the end of July), following an improvement in prospects for the still struggling colony, and was a day of prayer, not feasting.

After the American Revolution the first national Thanksgiving Day, proclaimed by President George Washington, was Nov. 26, 1789, and the Episcopal Church began celebrating an annual day of thanksgiving on the first Thursday in November. Some states established an annual Thanksgiving Day, but there was no annual national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln, urged by Sarah J. Hale, proclaimed one in 1863, appointing as the date the last Thursday of November. Although the only known contemporary account of the 1621 Plymouth harvest celebration had been rediscovered in 1841, the national Thanksgiving Day initially was not officially linked to it.

In 1939, 1940, and 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving the next-to-last Thursday in November. Conflicts arose between Roosevelt's proclamation and about half of those of state governors, and in 1941 Congress passed a joint resolution decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November. The day is observed by church services and family reunions; the customary turkey dinner is a reminder of the wildfowl served at the Pilgrims' celebration. Canadians also celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day, on the second Monday in October; prior to 1957 it was on the last Monday of the month.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Thanksgiving Day History (U.S.): Selected full-text books and articles

The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States By Pleck, Elizabeth Journal of Social History, Vol. 32, No. 4, Summer 1999
The American Presidency in Action, 1789: A Study in Constitutional History By James Hart Macmillan Co., 1948
Librarian’s tip: Includes "The Proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving" on p. 24
The Lady of Godey's, Sarah Josepha Hale By Ruth E. Finley J. B. Lippincott, 1931
Librarian’s tip: Includes Chap. XII "Thanksgiving Day"
The Oxford Companion to the Year By Bonnie Blackburn; Leofranc Holford-Strevens Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Thanksgiving" on p. 654
Q: Should Public Schools Celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays? By Buehrer, Eric; Doerr, Edd Insight on the News, Vol. 12, No. 45, December 2, 1996
Days and Customs of All Faiths By Howard V. Harper Fleet Publishing, 1957
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Thanksgiving begins on p. 300
FREE! Good Stories for Great Holidays: Arranged for Story-Telling and Reading Aloud and for the Children's Own Reading By Frances Jenkins Olcott Houghton Mifflin, 1914
Librarian’s tip: Section of Thanksgiving stories begins on p. 267
Our Holidays in Poetry By Mildred P. Harrington; Josephine H. Thomas H. W. Wilson, 1929
Patriotic Games: Sporting Traditions in the American Imagination, 1876-1926 By S. W. Pope Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Includes Chap. Five "Thanksgiving Football Rituals"
Seneca Thanksgiving Rituals By Wallace L. Chafe U. S. Government Printing Office, 1961
The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origin By Ann Uhry Abrams Westview Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Includes information on Thanksgiving in Chap. 1 "Invented Traditions"
Memory's Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rock By John Seelye University of North Carolina Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Includes information on Thanksgiving Day history in Chap. 16 "Feminizing the Rock"
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