What Day Of The Month is Thanksgiving?

by oaeen
The Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving is a cherished holiday in the United States, celebrated with great enthusiasm and marked by traditions that include family gatherings, elaborate feasts, and expressions of gratitude. The question, “What day of the month is Thanksgiving?” often arises, especially among those curious about the specifics of this annual event. Unlike many holidays that fall on a fixed date, Thanksgiving has a unique designation: it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November each year. This article delves into the origins, historical significance, and contemporary practices associated with Thanksgiving, providing a comprehensive understanding of why and how this date was chosen and what it means for Americans today.

Historical Origins of Thanksgiving

Early Celebrations

Thanksgiving’s roots trace back to the early 17th century when the Pilgrims, who had sailed from England on the Mayflower, settled in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The first Thanksgiving is commonly dated to 1621, following the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest in the New World. This event was marked by a three-day feast, attended by 53 Pilgrims and around 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe, who had helped the settlers survive their first harsh winter and taught them vital agricultural techniques.

The feast likely included foods native to the region such as venison, fowl, corn, nuts, and shellfish. Although the exact date of this gathering is not known, it is generally believed to have taken place in late September or early October. This first Thanksgiving was not an annual event, but rather a singular occurrence of communal celebration and gratitude for survival and a successful harvest.

Evolution into an Annual Tradition

The concept of Thanksgiving as an annual event took shape gradually. During the 17th and 18th centuries, various colonies observed days of thanksgiving at different times, often in response to specific events like successful harvests, military victories, or the end of droughts. These observances were usually marked by religious services and communal meals, reflecting the deeply ingrained sense of gratitude and religious faith of the early settlers.

It wasn’t until the late 18th century that a more unified approach to Thanksgiving began to emerge. In 1789, President George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation, designating November 26 of that year as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. Washington’s proclamation was influenced by a request from Congress, which sought to acknowledge the new Constitution and the benefits of a unified nation.

However, Thanksgiving did not become an annual national holiday immediately. Subsequent presidents issued their own Thanksgiving proclamations intermittently, and the dates varied widely. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the push for a consistent, nationwide observance gained significant momentum.

Sarah Josepha Hale’s Campaign

A key figure in the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent writer and editor. Beginning in the 1820s, Hale campaigned tirelessly for the formal recognition of Thanksgiving. She believed that a national holiday would help unify a nation increasingly divided over issues such as slavery.

Hale’s efforts included writing letters to governors, presidents, and other influential figures, as well as using her position as editor of the popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book to promote the idea. Her campaign bore fruit in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln, influenced by Hale’s advocacy and seeking to foster national unity during the Civil War, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

Lincoln’s proclamation marked a significant turning point, and from that year onward, Thanksgiving was observed annually on the designated Thursday in November, although the exact week varied depending on presidential proclamations.

Establishment of the Fourth Thursday

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Calendar Controversy

The tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November continued for several decades without significant controversy. However, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sparked a national debate by changing the date of Thanksgiving. That year, November had five Thursdays, and Roosevelt decided to move Thanksgiving up by one week, to the fourth Thursday, in an effort to extend the holiday shopping season and boost the economy.

Roosevelt’s decision was met with mixed reactions. Some states followed the new date, while others adhered to the traditional last Thursday of November. This led to confusion and inconsistency, with some states celebrating Thanksgiving on different dates. The controversy even spawned the terms “Franksgiving” and “Republican Thanksgiving” to distinguish between the two observances.

To resolve the issue, Congress intervened in 1941, passing a joint resolution that officially established Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Roosevelt signed the resolution into law on December 26, 1941, thus standardizing the date and ending the confusion.

Cultural Significance and Traditions

Family and Togetherness

Thanksgiving is widely regarded as a time for family and friends to come together and express gratitude for their blessings. The holiday is marked by large family gatherings, where members often travel significant distances to reunite with loved ones. This emphasis on togetherness and communal celebration underscores the holiday’s enduring appeal and significance.

The Thanksgiving Feast

The centerpiece of Thanksgiving celebrations is the traditional feast, which typically includes roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. These dishes have become synonymous with the holiday, although regional variations and family traditions often introduce additional or alternative foods to the menu.

The turkey, in particular, has become an iconic symbol of Thanksgiving. The practice of serving turkey is believed to have originated from the early feasts, where wildfowl was a common dish. Today, the preparation and sharing of the Thanksgiving meal are central to the holiday’s rituals, fostering a sense of warmth, hospitality, and shared enjoyment.

Parades and Public Celebrations

Public celebrations, such as parades, also play a significant role in Thanksgiving traditions. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, first held in 1924, has become an integral part of the holiday, drawing millions of spectators both in person and through television broadcasts. The parade features elaborate floats, giant balloons, marching bands, and performances, creating a festive atmosphere that heralds the start of the holiday season.

Football and Entertainment

Another beloved Thanksgiving tradition is watching football. The National Football League (NFL) has held Thanksgiving Day games since the 1920s, and these games have become a staple of the holiday. For many families, gathering around the television to watch football is as much a part of Thanksgiving as the meal itself.

In addition to football, Thanksgiving often includes other forms of entertainment, such as board games, movie marathons, and outdoor activities. These activities contribute to the overall sense of relaxation and enjoyment that characterizes the holiday.

Acts of Charity and Giving

Thanksgiving is also a time for acts of charity and giving back to the community. Many people participate in volunteer activities, such as serving meals at shelters, donating to food drives, or supporting charitable organizations. These acts of kindness and generosity reflect the spirit of gratitude and community that lies at the heart of the holiday.

Thanksgiving Around the World

While Thanksgiving is most closely associated with the United States, similar holidays of gratitude and harvest celebrations exist in other countries as well.


Canada celebrates its own version of Thanksgiving, known as Thanksgiving Day (Jour de l’Action de grâce), on the second Monday of October. The Canadian Thanksgiving shares many similarities with the American holiday, including family gatherings, feasts, and expressions of gratitude. The holiday has historical roots in European harvest festivals and the influence of American customs.

Other Countries

Other countries have their own traditions of harvest celebrations and giving thanks. These holidays, while different in their specific customs and origins, share a common theme of gratitude and community. For example:

Germany: Erntedankfest, or “Harvest Thanksgiving Festival,” is celebrated in early October and includes church services, parades, and communal meals.

Japan: Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinrō Kansha no Hi), observed on November 23, has evolved from ancient harvest festivals and now focuses on honoring labor and human rights.

Liberia: Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday of November, reflecting the country’s historical ties to the United States.


Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, is a holiday rich in history, tradition, and cultural significance. Its origins date back to the early 17th century, evolving through various stages before becoming a national holiday in the 19th century. The decision to standardize the date on the fourth Thursday of November was influenced by economic considerations and ultimately codified by Congress in 1941.

Today, Thanksgiving is a time for family gatherings, feasts, and expressions of gratitude. It is marked by traditions such as the Thanksgiving meal, parades, football games, and acts of charity. While the holiday is uniquely American, similar celebrations of gratitude and harvest exist around the world, highlighting the universal human desire to give thanks and celebrate community.

As we gather with loved ones each November, the enduring appeal of Thanksgiving reminds us of the importance of gratitude, togetherness, and the simple joys of sharing a meal and making memories with those we hold dear.

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