When was Thanksgiving officially recognized, and who was responsible for its selection as a holiday? Americans believe they know the real story of the Thanksgiving holiday. Most think it dates back to 1621 and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. However, historical facts provide a different perspective on how it became a national holiday. The following excerpts from official records give us the answer.
In the 1776 Continental Congressional Journals, records reflect two days of solemn fasting and prayer; there is no mention of a need or desire for permanent recognition.
That changed in 1777. British forces gained significant military victories throughout New York and Pennsylvania for much of that year. When America’s largest city, Philadelphia, fell on September 26, Congress fled west a hundred miles to the hamlet of York-town (York, PA). Then, on October 31, the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga turned the tide of the war prompting France to enter into a full alliance with America. Congress responded to this momentous event by drafting a resolution declaring Thursday, December 18, as “a day of Thanksgiving” to God, so that ”with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor.” Thus, York, PA, and the date of December 18, 1777, are recognized as the first official location and day celebrating Thanksgiving.
In 1778, Congress approved a resolution drafted by Samuel Adams setting aside Wednesday, December 30, as a day of public thanksgiving and praise. From 1779 to 1789, presidents issued similar proclamations involving many dates, days, and months for celebrating humiliation, fasting, and prayer.
In 1789, President George Washington issued a formal proclamation designating Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. He noted that “both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested [him] to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.”
From that date until 1863, dates/days changed. To standardize the date, President Abraham Lincoln re-issued the call for a day of Thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday of November as originally proposed. Thanksgiving became an official national holiday in 1870 when Congress decided that the president would select the actual Thanksgiving date. Most presidents followed Lincoln’s lead and chose the last Thursday of November.
This process continued until Congress set the last Thursday of November as the official day of Thanksgiving. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.
It remains that way today.
— Compiled from various sources