Thanksgiving 2018 Facts: When Did It Become a Holiday, When, Where Was the First Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year. For many, it’s a time to bring together family and friends, enjoy good food and maybe watch some football. But the traditions that have come to define Thanksgiving today in the United States for many weren’t always part of the holiday.

The Thanksgiving widely celebrated today falls on the fourth Thursday in November. It wasn’t signed into law for hundreds of years after the first Thanksgivings were held. The first legal version of Thanksgiving was created in 1789 when President George Washington proclaimed it an official holiday of public thanksgiving. He said that Thursday, November 26, 1789, would be a day for “sincere and humble thanks.”

Nearly a hundred years later President Abraham Lincoln moved the holiday to the fourth Thursday in November. In 1939, the holiday was moved once again, this time to the third Thursday of the month, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in an attempt to make the shipping season longer. In 1941, the holiday was moved back to the fourth Thursday where it has stayed since.

This year the holiday will fall on Thursday, November 22, but long before the holiday was ever signed into law or made official it was still celebrated. The earliest Thanksgivings happened all around what is now the continental United States.

In 1541, the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado has a Thanksgiving celebration, according to the Library of Congress. In 1607, colonists reportedly met with the local Abnaki people in Maine to have a Thanksgiving celebration and then a few years later the settlers in Jamestown also had a thanksgiving prayer.

The celebration at Plymouth, possibly the best known Thanksgiving celebration, didn’t happen until 1621. The feast was held after the autumn harvest and was a three-day event that involved turkey, duck, lobster, corn and more. That Thanksgiving get together is frequently taught as the first. The Plimoth Plantation living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, holds a Thanksgiving Dinner event each year. That feast may have led to the general court in Boston proclaiming that there would be a Thanksgiving in 1678.

Since the earliest celebrations of the holiday, the way it's celebrated may have expanded but it still centers around a feast and bringing people together in the name of giving thanks. 

pumpkin pie Slices of pumpkin pie sit on a table during the Great Thanksgiving Banquet hosted by the Bay Area Rescue Mission on November 25, 2015, in Richmond, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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