Thanksgiving history: Traditions and origins, where did it begin?

Americans may know the story behind Thanksgiving, but there’s more historical facts about how Thanksgiving became a national holiday.

You may be excited to get into the Christmas spirit, but Thanksgiving always comes first. The holiday is associated with a traditional turkey dinner (that has plenty of sides), along with a reflections on what people have to be grateful for.

Before it became an official holiday, President George Washington issued a proclamation that Thursday, November 26, 1789, would be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer,” according to the Unites States Office of the Historian. It wasn’t until 1863, however, that President Abraham Lincoln said that Americans should recognize the last Thursday of every November as a day of Thanksgiving.

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Thanksgiving became an official national holiday in 1870, along with Christmas, New Year’s Day and Independence Day, the government website states. At that time, it was decided that the president would decide the date of Thanksgiving. Most followed Lincoln’s lead and chose the last Thursday of November, according to the Office of the Historian.

This continued until President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it to the third Thursday of November, according to the Office of the Historian. At the time, the country was still reeling from the Great Depression, and Roosevelt hoped to help businesses by extending the holiday season.

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The move was controversial, however, and the House passed a bill in October of 1941 that made the last Thursday of November the official date for Thanksgiving. The bill wasn’t signed by Roosevelt until December, however, so it didn’t take effect until the following Thanksgiving, according to the Office of the Historian.

While historians may disagree on whether turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving, the bird has become synonymous with the holiday, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Turkey was popular to serve at most holiday or celebratory dinners. Due to its relative affordability and abundant supply, it became the official meal for Thanksgiving throughout the 19th century, according to britannica.com.

Post-Thanksgiving Black Friday sales are actually a relatively recent addition to the holiday. Some historians believe that the name Black Friday being associated with the holiday actually originated from frustrated factory managers in the 1950s. Apparently, a lot of workers would call out sick the day after Thanksgiving, according to dictionary.com, a digital dictionary.

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The modern meaning behind Black Friday (being the day that businesses make enough money to be in the black financially) seems to have begun in the 1980s, the dictionary website states.

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