Thanksgiving Day in the United States is an annual day of thanks for the blessings of the past year, observed on the fourth Thursday in November. It is a historical, national, and religious holiday that began with the Pilgrims.
After the survival of their first colony through the bitter winter, and the gathering of the harvest, Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Colony issued a thanksgiving proclamation in the autumn of 1621, three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth. This first thanksgiving lasted three days, during which the Pilgrims feasted on wild turkey and venison with their Indian guests.
Governor Bradford of Massachusetts:
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.” (William Bradford)
Days of thanksgiving were celebrated sporadically until, on Nov. 26, 1789, President Washington issued a proclamation of a nation-wide day of thanksgiving. He made it clear that the day should be one of prayer and giving thanks to God. It was to be celebrated by all religious denominations, a circumstance that helped to promote a spirit of common heritage.
Credit for establishing this day as a national holiday is usually given to Sarah J. Hale. Her magazine editorials and letters to President Lincoln urging the formal establishment of a national holiday of thanksgiving resulted in Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, designating the last Thursday in November as the day. In 1941, Congress adopted a joint resolution setting the date on the fourth Thursday.