Where Did Our Thanksgiving Really Come From?


Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I’ve always thought it was a time to reflect on what I’m thankful for. Of course, being the former history teacher and current historical romance writer, I like to look back at the roots of the holiday in the US.

Most of us picture the 1621 celebration at Plymouth Plantation when we think about Thanksgiving. The settlers held a 3-day feast, with both Pilgrims and Native Americans jointly celebrating a bountiful harvest and successful growing season. Can you imagine a marathon of 3 days today, with food, football, and relatives? My scales are grateful we keep it to a single day!

But it wasn’t until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the final Thursday of November as a national holiday that Americans settled on an annual tradition of giving thanks. Poor Mr. Lincoln’s presidency was haunted by the specter of civil war, so I appreciate that he could look on the bright side and help people focus on whatever blessings their lives held.

Every president following Lincoln kept with his example of proclaiming the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving–that is, until Depression-era President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed tradition in 1939. Usually, November has four Thursdays, but this particular year it held five. FDR declared the 4th Thursday as Thanksgiving. He believed an earlier holiday would help provide a longer timeframe to sell goods before Christmas. If citizens had longer to buy more products, merchants might increase their profits–which might help America shake off the hard times of a depressed economy that had lingered for a decade.

Ironically, it wasn’t FDR’s idea to do this. He was advised by Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores chain, to try this. At the time, no one dared advertise goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving (it was considered bad taste to do that), so this would give shoppers some extra time. I’m sure those 1939 merchants and consumers would be shocked if they saw how Christmas advertising and merchandise goes up in some stores before Halloween!

Nowadays, Thanksgiving is, by law, the 4th Thursday of November. And starting in 1947, the National Turkey Federation gifts the President with 1 live turkey and 2 dressed turkeys. In 1987, President Reagan issued a presidential pardon to the live one and sent him to a petting zoo! President Bush, who entered office after Reagan, made the turkey’s pardon an annual tradition, which Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have since continued.

So what am I most thankful for as this time of year rolls around?

As a writer, I’m thankful for the trio of wonderful people who help get my stories into the hands of readers, my editor Debby Gilbert and my cover artist Ramona Lockwood, as well as my web designer Jay Fox, who pulls everything together in a cohesive manner. I’m also thankful that I have these interesting characters having conversations in my head that help me capture and create their stories. And definitely ecstatic that the Internet makes my research so easy to do.

As an individual, I’m blessed with a terrific, thoughtful, loving family. I have my health. I live in a great town and have wonderful friends who enrich my life.

As an American, I’m grateful for living in a country with so many freedoms–and especially grateful for those who protect those freedoms.

So here’s to a month of reflecting on what blessings are in my life and looking forward to the traditions of Thanksgiving Day. Yes, I’m talking about you, pumpkin pie, and plenty of football!


About laurenlinwood

I'm a romance author who loves reading, movies, music, and sports. Connect with
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2 Responses to Where Did Our Thanksgiving Really Come From?

  1. Kathy Hogan says:

    I remember the “good old days” when you wouldn’t see any sign of Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving. It was always such a treat. Now seeing Christmas in August gets tiring. I tried to buy fall decorations the 3rd week of October. Silly me. I walked into three different decorating stores to be assaulted by Christmas. I did find a tiny sale table with a few fall items. Next time I will shop for fall in June. The coats will be out by then anyway to put me in the mood.

  2. I believe Congress should pass a law that would prevent any Christmas decorations from going up until the day after Thanksgiving. I have people in my neighborhood already putting up Christmas lights before Halloween happened! I was so disheartened the year I went in on August 1 to look for some new seat cushions for my deck and got 3 feet inside (an unnamed store), only to run into dozens of Christmas trees with lights and baubles.

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