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Why Is Thanksgiving On Thursday?

EDINA, Minnesota (WCCO) -- Whether stores are open or not on Thanksgiving to welcome in shoppers searching for deals, one consistent aspect of the holiday is that it's always on a Thursday.

So we wanted to know: Why is Thanksgiving celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November?

According to the Library of Congress, Native Americans often gave thanks for all that nature provided them. European explorers who traveled to the "New World" in the 1500-1600's, including Francisco Vasquez de Coronado of Spain, took time to give thanks in form of a large celebration.

When was the first famous Thanksgiving meal between the pilgrims and the Native Americans? It happened in 1621, when members of the Plymouth Colony celebrated the autumn harvest with the Wampanoag Tribe. It lasted for three days and included skill competitions. The historic gathering created the framework for Thanksgiving traditions recognized today, such as turkey being the main course.

In October of 1678, a court in Boston declared Thursday, Nov. 21 as a day of fasting and prayer.

More than a century later, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789, as a day of national thanksgiving. Presidents John Adams and James Madison did the same when they held office, but several other presidents who followed did not. Despite the holiday not regularly being in the calendar, many states still celebrated a national day of thanks. Recipes were even advertised in newspapers and magazines.

Which president in the 1800s proclaimed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day? Abraham Lincoln did so in 1863, right in the midst of the Civil War. He was swayed by a letter from magazine editor Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, who promoted the holiday in her publication.

Thanksgiving continued on its normal expected day in November until 1939. Then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was swayed by the National Retail Dry Goods Association make the holiday one week earlier. That way, the holiday shopping would be one week longer ahead of Christmas. What followed was a confusing two-year stretch.

FDR's change was supposed to only affect the District of Columbia and federal employees, but 23 states decided to move the holiday up one week. Another 23 states stuck with Thanksgiving being on the final Thursday of the month, while Texas and Colorado celebrated both Thursdays. Shoppers didn't know when to visit stores for sales. Football teams that scheduled games for the holiday had to make changes as well.

After enough complaints and confusion, FDR signed legislation in 1941 that Thanksgiving would once again be on the fourth Thursday of November. It has been that way ever since.


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