Thanksgiving: Historical Facts about American Harvest Day

4:04 pm  |  23.09.2021

Thanksgiving is celebrated in November each year in the United States. Besides Christmas, Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays for every American.

When is Thanksgiving? 


Thanksgiving is not celebrated on a specific, set date in the United States. The so-called Thanksgiving Day always takes place on the fourth Thursday of November. 

In 1865, thanks to a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the first Thursday in November. Four years later, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday as Thanksgiving Day. In all other years – until 1939 – Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November, as the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln had once determined.

It wasn’t until 1939 when the National Retail Dry Goods Association wanted to extend the Christmas shopping season and put pressure on the American President, that Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day one week to the penultimate Thursday of the month. The association had made a similar proposal back in 1933, but it was rejected because Roosevelt believed the change could cause too much confusion.

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In 1939, thanksgiving was real chaos. The Thanksgiving Day change actually only applied to the District of Columbia and federal employees. It was assumed that the governors of the other states would follow the state proclamation for the same day. Instead, 23 of the 48 states celebrated Thanksgiving on November 23 this year, while 23 states celebrated Thanksgiving on November 30. In addition, Texas and Colorado both declared Thursday’s public holidays.

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Presidential Thanksgiving

After two years of confusion and numerous complaints, President Roosevelt signed a law establishing Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November. To ensure that future presidents can no longer influence the planning of Thanksgiving Day, Congress passed a law stating that Thanksgiving Day could fall on the last Thursday in five out of seven years. According to this, Thanksgiving always takes place on the fourth Thursday in November until today.

Why do People Celebrate Thanksgiving? 

The story of Thanksgiving is not completely clear, so how the festival finally came about. Most Americans assume that the Pilgrim Fathers celebrated a three-day harvest festival at Plymouth Rock together with the indigenous Wampanoag Indians as a thank you. 

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Without the help of the indigenous people, the settlers from Europe would probably not have survived the harsh winter around 400 years ago. The Indians showed the Europeans the best way to grow corn and fertilize their fields and helped them to cope in the new country. According to legend, the settlers and the Wampanoag people celebrated the very first harvest festival together.

When was the First Time Thanksgiving Celebrated?

In 1620, brave emigrants made their way to America in search of a better life. During that times in their homeland, many had no food and no work and hoped to start all over in America. In Plymouth, a port city in southwest England, numerous people boarded the Mayflower to sail to America.


The crossing across the Atlantic turned out to be very difficult, as many emigrants did not survive the trip. The reason was the many diseases that could easily spread on board. Even when the emigrants arrived in America, things didn’t really get any better. The settlers were troubled by the climate and the different flora and fauna, which they did not know from their homeland. Serious illnesses arose again and some people lost their lives.

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Other settlers in turn died of hunger and weakness. The tribe of the Wampanoag Indians became aware of the suffering of the settlers and showed the emigrants how they can survive in their new home. As a thank you, both parties celebrated the first Thanksgiving festival together in 1621. This is still considered to be the hour of birth of Thanksgiving Day.

What Do You Do at Thanksgiving? 

On Thanksgiving Day, it is a tradition in the United States for the whole family to gather and have a big feast. It is not uncommon for many Americans to travel across the United States to spend Thanksgiving and the weekend with their families.

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One of the most important customs is the prayer of thanksgiving at the table. This is usually spoken by the head of the family. In many families, however, it is the case that everyone present reveals in turn what they want to thank for, what has moved them particularly in the past, and what their wishes are for the future. Because Thanksgiving is a “Thank You” day, many Americans also help people who are not doing well. For example, food is donated for the homeless and the needy.

Detroit Lions

It has become a tradition for many families to watch football on television together in the afternoon. Incidentally, the two teams “Detroit Lions” and the “Dallas Cowboys” are always there. 

The Thanksgiving Parade in New York, which many families watch live on TV, is also popular. This traditionally starts on 77th Street in New York and runs west of Central Park on 6th Avenue until it finally ends at the Macy’s shopping center.

Many Americans take the Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday when the holiday season officially begins. So they can spend the long weekend together with their friends and families.

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