The Story of the Thanksgiving Holiday

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The holiday that Americans know as Thanksgiving did not become a federal celebration until 1863.

The shared meal between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag that is generally considered to be the prototypical Thanksgiving took place in 1621. But it wasn't necessarily an annual occurrence after that.

New York, in 1817, was the first state to term Thanksgiving a statewide holiday. By the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861, the idea had spread to the rest of the states.

It was largely through the persistence of author and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale (also known as the author of "Mary Had a Little Lamb") that Thanksgiving became a national holiday. Hale, editor of Boston Ladies' Magazine and Godey's Lady's Book, wrote personal letters to governors and presidents. She wrote editorials in her magazines. She campaigned far and wide for 40 years.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November be the federal holiday Thanksgiving. Each President since Lincoln has issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. The only subsequent change came in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the fourth Thursday in November. A Congressional resolution in 1941 cemented that practice.

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David White