Whether you’re joining loved ones at a restaurant or whipping up your best recipes for a filling feast, Thanksgiving has always been known as a time for gathering, celebrating, eating and enjoying traditions like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. To many, what remains a mystery about the national holiday, however, is why the special day is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
The history of turkey day goes back further than you might think. According to the Library of Congress, Thanksgiving wasn’t always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln was president, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day. But in 1865, turkey day was celebrated on the first Thursday in November due to a proclamation by then-president Andrew Johnson. Thanksgiving Day changed once again in 1869 when President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday for Thanksgiving.
It wasn’t until 1939 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt began the steps to change Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday of November. In response to pressure from the National Dry Goods Association to extend the Christmas shopping season, President Roosevelt moved the holiday to the next-to-last-Thursday of the month. The new proclamation only applied to Washington, D.C., and federal employees, leaving governors to decide when their states would celebrate the holiday. That year, 23 states celebrated on Nov. 23, 23 states celebrated on Nov. 30, and Texas and Colorado declared both Thursdays as Thanksgiving Day.
After two years of confusion, Christmas shopping was in disarray, football teams were frustrated, and families had no idea when to celebrate the holiday. So President Roosevelt made a choice. He officially signed legislation establishing Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November. Congress later introduced legislation to guarantee no future presidents could change the date of the holiday.
In short, there’s no reason Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November other than to tell shoppers that it’s time to buy Christmas gifts. Before you start thinking about Christmas, you need to make sure you’re ready for turkey day. Here are Thanksgiving shopping tips, strategies and secrets you’ll need this holiday season.