Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, is an American family tradition.
The centerpiece of the holiday is the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. A smorgasbord of autumn foods are served for this feast, including roasted or deep-fried turkey with bread stuffing, mash potatoes, corn, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce. Other regional fares like candied sweet potatoes, squashes, and Brussels sprouts are often found on the dining room table. For dessert, traditional pumpkin pies are often accompanied by pies made with apples, sweet potato or pecans.
The Thanksgiving tradition is believed to have started with the Pilgrims. The legend says that the Pilgrims that landed in Plymouth, Mass., celebrated their first harvest in North America with a large feast. The Pilgrims invited local Native Americans that helped the pilgrims set up their fields and offered hunting and fishing tips.
This painting by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe shows what the first Thanksgiving might have looked like in Plymouth, Mass. (Wikimedia)
This began an on and off tradition of celebrating the harvest throughout the U.S., usually in early or late November. It wasn’t until during the civil war that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving. In 1870, President Grant signed a law making the holiday a federal one in Washington, D.C. The states and subsequent presidents generally kept the precedence.
However, during the Great Depression year of 1939, November had five Thursdays and the holiday would fall on November 30. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, wanting to extend the holiday shopping season and help the fragile economy, moved the holiday forward a week to the fourth Thursday of the month. He moved it to the third Thursday in the following two years. Many people criticized the changes to the tradition.
To end the confusion, congress compromised and set the fourth Thursday of November as the official Thanksgiving national holiday.