How Thanksgiving became an American tradition

We all know the images and tales of Thanksgiving.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony held a three-day communal feast with the native Wampanoag Indians. This event is popularly celebrated as the origin of the American tradition.

However, the first Thanksgiving on this continent was not celebrated by pilgrims on the East Coast. It likely involved Spanish explorers about 80 years before the pilgrims. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and 16-hundred of his men held a celebration while camping in modern-day Texas. There were at least three other “Thanksgivings” before the Plymouth ceremony.

In June 1564, French colonists held a Thanksgiving celebration in modern-day Florida.


English settlers in Maine had a harvest feast with the Abenaki Indians in 1607.

In 1610, following a difficult winter, colonists held a thanksgiving in Jamestown after supply ships arrived delivering food.

Still, unlike today, none of these celebrations were observed in November.

The 1621 Plymouth Colony feast was celebrated sometime in the fall, probably in September or October.

In 1789, President George Washington selected November 26 to be a day of national thanksgiving and prayer, but it was still not considered a national holiday.

Thanksgiving continued to be recognized on and off on different dates until 1863.

In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln invited his fellow citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.

President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation in 1941 fixing the holiday on the fourth Thursday of the month. This move was prompted by requests from the National Retail Dry Goods Association to extend the Christmas shopping season by one week in years when November have five Thursdays.


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