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Why is Thanksgiving on the Fourth Thursday of November? It Wasn’t Always This Way

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Once a year, Americans gather around table to celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday meant to show gratitude, spend time with loved ones and of course, eat delicious food.

But the day which Thanksgiving is celebrated can vary year to year, as the holiday is nationally recognized to fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

It hasn’t always been this way: Thanksgiving has moved around multiple times, from a set month and day, to different days in both October and November. It was even celebrated on two different dates in the same year before it finally settled on the fourth Thursday of November we now celebrate.

Here’s what to know about why our holiday meant to give thanks is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

When was the first Thanksgiving?

We don’t know the date of the first-ever Thanksgiving where the colonists shared a meal with the indigenous Wampanoag people, but the History Chanel reports it is said to have taken place in 1621.

For a time, Thanksgiving was celebrated on Nov. 25 beginning in 1668, but that lasted only five years, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

Why is Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November?

Above view of thanksgiving dinner and family eating at table

President George Washington declared Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin,” after he was asked by the first Federal Congress, according to the National Archives. It was the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the country’s new Constitution.

Presidents after Washington would also issue a proclamation for Thanksgiving, but the months and days Thanksgiving was celebrated varied. With President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation, Thanksgiving became regularly celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

According to the National Archives, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month in 1939, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved that year’s Thanksgiving to the second-to-last Thursday of November to allow for a longer Christmas shopping season. But not all states followed suit: 32 issued similar proclamations, which 16 kept Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November.

By 1941, the House of Representatives passed a joint resolution, declaring Thanksgiving Day to be the last Thursday in November each year. The Senate amended the resolution making the holiday the fourth Thursday in November, and Roosevelt signed it in December 1941.

Today, Thanksgiving is recognized by the federal government to fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

Source: USA Today

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