Instead of a specific date, such as Dec. 25, the weekday tells us when to start downing turkey — the fourth Thursday in November.
We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving then since 1941. But getting there required some complicated moves, mostly from politicians.
At the request of Congress, President George Washington tried to set a date back in 1789. He wanted America to dine and give thanks on Nov. 26, which happened to fall on a Thursday that year. But no one really listened. The timing continued to vary, and other presidents even tried to make their own proclamations.
Until President Abraham Lincoln rolled up his sleeves. His 1863 proclamation (no, not the emancipation one) officially commemorated Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November.
In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, concerned consumers didn’t have enough time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to shop for gifts, moved Thanksgiving to the second Thursday in November. Thirty-two states followed suit, but 16 refused to listen. For the next couple years, the country celebrated Turkey Day at two different times.
Congress decided to end the confusion once-and-for-all in 1941. The House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November as the legal day for Thanksgiving. But the Senate, thinking back to what happened in ’39, amended the bill to say the “fourth” Thursday in November. Some years, November does have five Thursdays.
Roosevelt signed the bill into law on Dec. 26 that year.
So now you know.
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