Come Thanksgiving morning, people around the nation begin the day with traditions of their own. Some snuggle in front of the TV watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, breakfast in hand. Others are already hard at work in the kitchen, laboring away as the turkey roasts and sides and sauces simmer away. It’s a national holiday beloved by all, and a chance to spend time with the family — even for the president.
Rather than going to Camp David with extended family, last year President Obama spent the day at home in the White House. The Obamas were joined by his half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng’s family for a feast featuring both turkey and ham and six kinds of pies, leaving us wondering how they’re going to top that this year.
Thanksgiving wasn’t always a national holiday. Since the mid-19th century, Thanksgiving as we now know it has been a New England tradition that gives people a chance to celebrate and give thanks for an abundant harvest, according to the White House Historical Association. But it hasn’t always taken place on a Thursday in late November. In fact, Thanksgiving used to be observed at the discretion of each state’s leader. Imagine if Connecticut celebrated it on Thursday, Virginia on Friday, and then Kentucky on Saturday? It would make bringing family together quite a challenge.
It wasn’t until Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of Godey’s Lady’s Book, campaigned for an official recognition of the day that a unified holiday was established. She petitioned Congress and five presidents, finally finding success in 1863, when President Lincoln recognized the importance of the day. He signed a proclamation that declared the last Thursday in November as a “Day of Thanksgiving and Praise” — Thanksgiving, as we now know it.
Thanksgiving, as We Know It
But what if there were five weeks in November, rather than the general four? It’s what happened in 1933 (and will happen next year), and Thanksgiving fell on the 30th. Amidst the Great Depression, business owners around the country feared losing money due to a shorter Christmas shopping season, with 24 days rather than a more typical 30 (or so). They petitioned President Roosevelt that the holiday be moved up to the fourth week in November.