Gobble, gobble: Here’s why Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November

Have you ever wondered why Thanksgiving always falls on the fourth Thursday of November? And why not on a Friday to give working Americans a three-day weekend to digest all of that food?

This year, Thanksgiving is Nov. 28 — but the most widely known early Thanksgiving actually took place over three days in September or October, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. The harvest festival was held by the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Wampanoag people in 1621.

In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, Nov. 26 as a "Day of Publick Thanksgivin," the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution, according to the National Archives.


A feast for Thanksgiving dinner is shown in a file image taken on Nov. 2, 2007. (Photo by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Subsequent presidents issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, but the dates and months of those food-filled celebrations varied. Then in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that Thanksgiving would be regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.

In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month — creating concern that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the country’s economic recovery, according to the National Archives. As a result, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November.

But this actually created confusion. Some 32 states issued similar proclamations, while 16 states refused to accept the change and kept Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November. For two years, the holiday was celebrated at different times depending on where you lived.

To end the chaos, Congress stepped up and decided to set a fixed-date for Thanksgiving, according to the National Archives.

The House passed a joint resolution on Oct. 6, 1941 declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution to make Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday, which would take into account the years when November has five Thursdays.

The House agreed to the amendment, and Roosevelt signed the resolution on Dec. 26, 1941 — thus making the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday in the United States.

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