Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers! I hope that you get a chance to spend time with family and friends and celebrate all that you are thankful for this year. For this holiday's special "did you know?" historical fact, instead of looking at the "First Thanksgiving" with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, the familiar story we've learned since childhood, I wanted to take a look at some other fun Thanksgiving Day facts.
When did Thanksgiving Day become a national holiday? During Colonial Times? Right after the American Revolution? The Civil War? In a way, all those answers would be correct in the right light. During the colonial era, most New England colonies celebrated a Day of Thanksgiving in the fall that would be declared yearly by the colonial governor. This would usually be a mix of a religious holiday to give thanks to God, and also a harvest festival to celebrate that years bounty of crops. The first nation wide Thanksgiving was declared by President George Washington, who declared that November 26, 1789 would be "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God."
Despite this early precedent of proclaiming a national day of thanksgiving, in most years following Washington, days of thanksgiving were declared on a state-by-state basis throughout the Fall. This would change under President Lincoln, and due in large part to the efforts of a woman who is unknown to most: Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale is best known, of all things, for writing the well known nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which was published in 1830. Hale grew up in New England and was a big supporter of the traditional thanksgiving day celebrations in the New England area. She wrote 5 U.S. Presidents calling on them to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, starting with President Zachary Taylor in 1846. All her pleas fell on deaf ears until President Lincoln, who in 1863 signed into law legislation that made the last Thursday in November as the national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated in all states. Now, since this was during the U.S. Civil War, this tradition would not reach the states of the Confederacy until after 1865. When Lincoln signed this legislation, Thanksgiving Day became the third official national holiday in the United States after Independence Day and Washington's Birthday.