First Thanksgiving

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Why Is Thanksgiving on the Fourth Thursday of November?

We don’t know exactly when the first Thanksgiving was celebrated, so what does the date mean?

The very first Thanksgiving — the one with the Pilgrims and Squanto — is commonly believed to have been held in mid-October, right as harvest season was finishing up. Why, then, do we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November?

Thanksgiving has actually been celebrated, unofficially, since colonial times. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Thanksgiving was historically always celebrated on a Thursday because it distanced the festival from the Sabbath, and Thursday was also the day that ministers would give religious lectures. Colonial governors set the precedent for having Thanksgiving on a Thursday in November, and President George Washington set it in stone in 1789, when he declared “a day of publick thanksgiving” for Thursday, Nov. 26. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that it should be held on the last Thursday of November. Finally, in 1941, the U.S. Congress voted to make Thanksgiving Day a federal holiday on November’s fourth Thursday.

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In short, there’s no set definite reason Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, besides the fact that it’s basically the way it’s always been done. So instead of getting bogged down by the minutiae (which you can find plenty of here), let’s just be thankful that Thanksgiving exists at all.