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Presidential Legacy: The Evolution of Thanksgiving History from Plymouth to Roosevelt Proclamation

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

A day like today (November-26)

Unveiling the Tapestry of Thanksgiving: A Presidential Legacy

The real roots of Thanksgiving: Rethinking what happened 400 years ago at the first feast in Plymouth

Introduction Thanksgiving history, Roosevelt proclamation

In the annals of American history, there exists a day that transcends the ordinary—a day woven into the fabric of tradition, gratitude, and presidential influence. This day is Thanksgiving, and its journey from humble origins to a nationally celebrated holiday is marked by the strokes of history and the pen of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Early Roots

Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies

The roots of Thanksgiving delve into the early history of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. In a time when post-harvest holidays were a communal affair, the choice of the day was not arbitrary. It aligned with "Lecture Day," a midweek church meeting where sermons on relevant topics were presented. This historical context sets the stage for a tradition that would evolve over centuries.

The Pilgrims' Gratitude

In the crisp autumn of 1621, Plymouth governor William Bradford orchestrated a historic moment. Local Indians were invited to join the Pilgrims in a three-day festival, a gesture of gratitude for the abundant harvest. Little did they know, this event would be etched into the cultural tapestry of the nation.

National Recognition

Continental Congress and Patriot Victory

Fast forward to 1777, post the Patriot victory at Saratoga. The Continental Congress declared the first national American Thanksgiving, marking a collective acknowledgment of triumph and abundance.

Washington's Proclamation

In 1789, President George Washington, at the behest of Congress, proclaimed November 26—a Tuesday—as a day of national thanksgiving dedicated to the U.S. Constitution. A crucial step, yet the modern holiday had not fully crystallized.

Lincoln's Presidential Imprint

Setting the Date in Stone

The transformative moment came in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to fall on the last Thursday of November. This presidential decree established a tradition that endured for decades.

Roosevelt's Departure

However, traditions, even deeply rooted ones, can face deviation. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke from the established pattern, declaring November 23 as Thanksgiving Day. The departure stirred considerable controversy, with some Americans rejecting Roosevelt's decision.

The Unpopular Proclamation

Undeterred by public dissent, Roosevelt repeated the unpopular proclamation for the next two years. The celebration date had become a point of contention, a departure from the established norm that had persevered through generations.

Redemption and Recognition

On November 26, 1941, President Roosevelt conceded his mistake. In an act of humility and acknowledgment, he signed a bill into law officially designating the fourth Thursday in November as the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.


Thanksgiving, as we know it today, is a patchwork quilt of historical moments, presidential influence, and the resilience of tradition. From the communal celebrations of the Plymouth Pilgrims to the national proclamation by President Roosevelt, each stitch contributes to the rich tapestry of gratitude woven into the American ethos. Explore the tapestry of Thanksgiving history, Roosevelt proclamation, American.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Why did President Roosevelt change the date of Thanksgiving?

A: Roosevelt changed the date in 1939, declaring November 23 as Thanksgiving, aiming to extend the shopping period before Christmas during the Great Depression.

Q: Did Americans support Roosevelt's change in Thanksgiving date?

A: No, considerable controversy arose, and some Americans refused to honor Roosevelt's deviation from the traditional celebration date.

Q: How did Roosevelt rectify the mistake?

A: On November 26, 1941, Roosevelt admitted his error and signed a bill into law, officially designating the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

Q: What role did President Lincoln play in establishing the Thanksgiving tradition?

A: President Lincoln initiated the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November in 1863, a practice followed until 1939.

Q: How did the tradition of Thanksgiving originate?

A: Thanksgiving originated in the early history of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, marked by post-harvest celebrations on "Lecture Day." (2013.). This Day in History.

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