ILLINOIS (HOI) – Many of us remember learning about the “first Thanksgiving” in elementary school as a special harvest gathering where the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to their celebration.
We’re taught that feast was a show of thanks to the Native Americans for helping Europeans adapt to North American life. According to nps.gov, that meal in 1621 was a continuation of traditional European harvest feasts.
As far as creating the holiday we celebrate today, Illinois politician and former President Abraham Lincoln played a big role in that.
According to history.house.gov Lincoln “encouraged Americans to recognize the last Thursday of November as ‘a day of Thanksgiving’,” in 1863. In his proclamation, he said this:
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …, 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. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” (source: obamawhitehouse.archives.gov)
Seven years later in 1870, Congress passed legislation to make Thanksgiving an official national holiday. With it, they threw in Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Independence day too.
Thanksgiving was the only holiday which gave the President the power to set the actual date of Thanksgiving each year. Per Lincoln’s proclamation, each President up until Franklin D. Roosevelt followed the last Thursday of the month “rule”.
However, Roosevelt wanted to extend the Christmas shopping season to help businesses in the aftermath of the Great Depression which ended in 1933. That’s why he moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November in 1939.
That lasted until 1941, when the House passed a bill which Roosevelt signed, declaring the last Thursday of the month as Thanksgiving Day.
Another person credited with the creation of the Thanksgiving holiday is Sarah Hale, the editor of Boston Ladies’ Magazine. In 1827 she reportedly started writing articles to call for a a Thanksgiving holiday. Later she started a letter-writing campaign for the cause and even wrote a letter to President Lincoln in 1863. It took 36 years to fulfill her mission.
President George Washington also issued a proclamation for “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789.