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History of Thanksgiving 2017: Facts & Origins of the Holiday

It’s Thanksgiving 2017 and people around the United States are celebrating with turkey, pumpkin pie, and football. While the Thanksgiving story is taught in schools, the version of Thanksgiving history that is learned leaves out some important details.


Here are three facts about Thanksgiving history that you might not know:

1. The Thanksgiving Feast in 1621 Wasn’t the First Thanksgiving

The idea to have feast celebrating a successful harvest was a tradition in both European and Native American customs. There are historical records discussing Thanksgiving feasts in Florida, Texas, Maine, and Virginia long before the Puritan colonists journeyed on the Mayflower. While the Spanish explorers and Native Americans believed in large feasts to celebrate the harvest, the Puritans often turned to fasting and prayer for their Thanksgiving celebrations.

2. Thanksgiving Wasn’t Always the 4th Thursday of November

For over 200 years, each state celebrated Thanksgiving history on a different day. The first national Thanksgiving celebration was declared by George Washington in 1789 to express gratitude for the end of the Revolutionary War and ratification of the Constitution. Thanksgiving feasts were more popular in the 13 original colonies and unheard of in the southern United States. These celebrations took place on different days and months depending on what event was being celebrated. During World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to move the day to the 3rd Thursday of November. This change was so unpopular it only lasted for two years.

3. Thanksgiving Wasn’t an Annual Celebration until 1941

In 1817, New York was the first state to declare an annual Thanksgiving Day. It wasn’t until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation during the Civil War establishing Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday. However, the holiday wasn’t an annual event, meaning each president had to issue a proclamation that year declaring what day the feast would be celebrated. It wasn’t until 1941 that Franklin Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday celebrated the 4th Thursday of the month. Now, the Thanksgiving story is more about having a large meal, parades on TV, and football than it is about being thankful for another harvest.

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