Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. What could be more American than stuffing your face all day and watching the Lions lose again?
With this post, on this Thanksgiving Day 2009, I just wanted to take the time to thank FDR. On this day sixty-eight years ago, some two weeks before America’s entry into World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established our modern holiday by signing a bill officially establishing the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
Of course, the tradition of celebrating a post-harvest holiday on Thursday in this country dates all the to the 17th century American colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. In the autumn of 1621, probably the most famous historical Thanksgiving observance occurred when Plymouth governor William Bradford invited some local Indians to join the Pilgrims in a three-day long festival held to pay thanks for the bounty of the season. By the 17th century, celebrating Thanksgiving became an annual custom throughout New England and the colonies. President George Washington even got into the act, becoming the first president to proclaim a Thanksgiving holiday in 1789. At the request of Congress he proclaimed November 26 – a Tuesday – as a day of national thanksgiving for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
The modern holiday was celebrated nationally until President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to land on the last Thursday of November in 1863. Then in 1939, FDR departed from this tradition by declaring November 23rd – the next to last Thursday that year – as Thanksgiving Day. In the American spirit, FDR did this to stretch Christmas shopping season, but also ended up causing a bit controversy in the process. Finally, FDR rectified his mistake by establishing the holiday through federal legislation on this day in 1941.
As far as the tradition of the presidential pardon for a certain fowl, custom calls for the president to “pardon” a live turkey, who then gets to live out the rest of its days at a children’s petting zoo. Although it is has been widely reported that this tradition began during the Truman administration, the Truman Library is unable to confirm that it ever took place. Some claim that the tradition dates back to a pardon issued by Lincoln to his son’s pet turkey.
Check out this video on History.com. Happy Thanksgiving!