Thanksgiving is one of the most beloved traditions in the United States that is celebrated every year with food, family and a break from busy schedules.
But, why does Thanksgiving fall on a Thursday? The answer requires a deep dive into history.
We don’t know much about the original “Thanksgiving” celebration held in 1621 with the Puritans and Womponoag. While it could have been on a Thursday, it likely lasted more than one day and may not have even taken place in November. What we do know that, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, Thursday did have some significance in the Puritan church, which is likely why Thanksgiving was held on Thursday for decades afterward.
President George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving and prayer on Nov. 25, 1789, but thereafter, the holiday wasn’t associated with one specific day of the week. In fact, states often celebrated on different dates and the holiday was largely unknown in the southern states.
After a push by famed writer Sarah Josepha Hale, it was President Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed that Thanksgiving be held on the last day of Thursday of November across the entire country in 1863. Lincoln issued the proclamation shortly after the Union successfully prevailed in the Civil War. It was seen as a day to be thankful for the war’s end.
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens,” Lincoln famously declared.
Thereafter, Thanksgiving was held on the last Thursday of November -- until 1939, when it happened to fall on Nov. 30.
It was the end of a tough decade, economically, and retailers complained that celebrating Thanksgiving on Nov. 30 did not leave consumers enough time to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Businesses lobbied President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who relented and pushed Thanksgiving back one week to Nov. 23. Some states rejected the idea, keeping Thanksgiving on the 30th, while others agreed to the change. Roosevelt continued the idea of pushing the holiday back a week in 1940, which resulted in a couple years of scheduling chaos.
Finally, in December of 1941, Congress stepped in just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and passed a bill marking Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Roosevelt signed the bill into law, and that has been the tradition ever since.