Tags: george washington | fdr | thanksgiving | date

How US Picked Date for Thanksgiving

By Cathy Burke   |   Wednesday, 27 Nov 2013 06:53 PM

President George Washington was the first to set an official date for Americans to give thanks, but it took politicians 152 years more to get it right.

It wasn't until October 1777 that all 13 colonies celebrated Thanksgiving, but its official commemoration came in 1789, when Washington proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26  "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer," especially for the chance to form a new nation and its constitution.

The timing varied in subsequent years, with other presidents trying to switch things to their own liking.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set a date for Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November, and that worked for the next 75 years.

In 1939, however, when the last Thursday was also the last day of November, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that was too close to Christmas, so he moved the day of thanks to the second Thursday in November.

Thirty-two states followed suit, but 16 others held out, and for the next two years, the United States celebrated Thanksgiving at two different times.

Congress stepped in to end the confusion in 1941, passing a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November as the legal day for Thanksgiving.

The Senate, mindful of the 1939 debacle, amended the resolution to say the fourth Thursday in November, accommodating those years when November has five.

Roosevelt signed the bill into law on Dec. 26, 1941.


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President George Washington was the first to set an official date for Americans to give thanks, but it took politicians 152 years more to get it right. It wasn't until October 1777 that all 13 colonies celebrated Thanksgiving, but its official commemoration came in 1789,...
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