Thanksgiving a holiday with a history stretching across Atlantic
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During the American Revolution, Congress annually appointed national days of thanksgiving for victories in war. In 1778, Gen. George Washington directed his soldiers at Valley Forge, Pa., to offer prayers of thanks for treaties made with France. A banquet followed. As president, Washington issued a nationwide Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1789. He set it to take place Thursday, Nov. 26, of that year.
Six years later - in 1795 - Washington called for another Thanksgiving Day. Celebrations were erratic, however, because of the various harvest seasons among states. Some states even considered Thanksgiving to be a European custom - and wanted nothing to do with it. Succeeding presidents were in disagreement on the time of the year for the holiday - or why it was observed.
President John Adams' idea of thanksgiving didn't have anything to do with the harvest season; in 1799, he suggested a celebration in April. President Thomas Jefferson actively condemned the day. In 1815, after the War of 1812, President James Madison proclaimed a holiday in November in thanks for victories. The custom was celebrated, mainly as a religious observance, locally and regionally by states, but on different dates.
Sara Josepha Hale, of Philadelphia, helped in the establishment of Thanksgiving as a formal national holiday. An author and editor, Hale penned 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.' In her quest to establish the holiday, she wrote editorials and sent thousands of letters. Her efforts finally moved President Abraham Lincoln. In the midst of the Civil War, he declared Nov. 26, 1863, as Thanksgiving Day.
Other presidents followed Lincoln's example. But, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date from the fourth to the third Thursday of November to accommodate the wishes of business merchants, who were eager for more shopping time before Christmas. This caused so much opposition that in 1941, a Congressional Joint Resolution again made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November.
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