Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving as a Federal Holiday

By Sharon R. Miles

Whether you get your fill of turkey, parade floats, or football; time to sleep in or time with family and friends; a reminder to give thanks; or all of the above - one thing remains constant: you get a federal holiday every fourth Thursday in November.

While Thanksgiving has been a tradition since the country was first settled, it did not become a federal holiday until 1941. Prior to 1941, the date on which Thanksgiving was celebrated varied. For example, Continental Congress designated one or more Thanksgiving celebrations each year during the Revolutionary War. Thanksgivings were declared in 1798 and 1799 by President, John Adams, but Thomas Jefferson did not declare any during his Presidency. The tradition was renewed by James Madison in 1814 as a result of Congressional resolutions presented at the conclusion of the War of 1812.

It was President Lincoln who designated a national Thanksgiving Day for the last Thursday in November in 1863 during the Civil War. Since then, Thanksgiving has been celebrated annually and his successors continued with the celebration on the last Thursday every November. However, in 1939 there were five Thursdays in November and President, Franklin D. Roosevelt deemed the fourth Thursday for Thanksgiving. And, in 1940 and 1941, years where November had four Thursdays, Roosevelt designated the third for the holiday. Many believe that Roosevelt made this change thinking that with an earlier Thanksgiving, there would be more time for holiday shopping. The country was in The Great Depression, and at that time, advertising prior to Thanksgiving was considered tactless.

It wasn’t until 1941 that Congress passed and Roosevelt signed the bill making Thanksgiving the federal holiday as we know it today; celebrated annually on the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how many Thursdays fall in November that year. This year, we celebrate Thanksgiving on November 26, exactly 220 years after George Washington issued a presidential proclamation marking the first Thanksgiving holiday in the newly formed United States of America.

Here’s to wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving (and Thank You for reading Lawffice Space)!

Note: Many employers give their employees the Friday after Thanksgiving off from work as well. Often referred to as Black Friday, many retailers mark this day as the start of the holiday shopping season.

Image: Sketch of Thanksgiving in camp during U.S. Civil War on Thursday, November 28, 1861 by Alfred R. Waud; obtained through Wikimedia Commons - Public domain, Library of Congress.

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