Why is Thanksgiving a Thursday in November?

Portrait of President George Washington by Gilbert Stuart Williamstown (Public Domain)
Portrait of President George Washington by Gilbert Stuart Williamstown (Public Domain)

(MEDIA GENERAL) – Holidays land on different days for different reasons. But for floating holidays, it’s always fair to wonder why those days were chosen. So why is Thanksgiving Day a random Thursday in November?

We can for sure provide answers for one of the two facets of our question. Thanksgiving is celebrated in November because it dates back to the original Thanksgiving feast – a celebration between pilgrims and Native Americans after a successful harvest. It only makes sense that it would be celebrated following traditional harvest time.

But why on a Thursday? Well, the short answer is “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

According to National Archives, President George Washington issued a proclamation in 1789 naming Thursday, Nov. 26 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.” From 1789 on, presidents issued a new proclamation each year for a national day of thanksgiving. A standard date – or even month – was never set, but Thursdays were the norm.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation to set Thanksgiving Day as the final Thursday in November every year. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed it to the fourth Thursday in November to extend the Christmas shopping season to help stimulate the economy.

In all of those declarations, no reason was given for why the holiday was set up on a Thursday. Some historians have some guesses, but they mostly are derived from social norms of 18th-century life. The Farmer’s Almanac openly posits Thursday may be the chosen day because ministers usually delivered mid-week sermons on Thursdays and the holiday was built for reflection and prayer, but nothing has been confirmed by historians or legal documents.

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