Why Thursday?

I have often wondered why Thanksgiving is always celebrated on a Thursday.  I mean, wouldn’t it be more convenient if it were on a weekend?  Thursday seems like a random day of the week for a national holiday.

I assumed this was because the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 was celebrated on a Thursday.  It sort of was.  

Turns out, that first Thanksgiving was a three-day celebration of the pilgrims’ first harvest after landing and most likely took place to coincide with Michaelmas that year.  Michaelmas was, and is, a day set aside to honor the archangels and in particular the Archangel Michael.  But Michaelmas in 1621 fell on a Wednesday, not a Thursday.  But since the Harvest Festival was a three-day event in 1621, it did include a Thursday.  Then again, the whole event may not have even been in November since Michaelmas is celebrated on September 29th!  

It was President George Washington who proclaimed the date for the first Thanksgiving Holiday.  In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 (a Thursday!) of that year as a national day of Thanksgiving to recognize the role of providence in creating the new United States and the new federal Constitution. 

But it was really President Abraham Lincoln who, in the midst of the Civil War 1863, proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be our national Thanksgiving Day each year.  

In 1865, Thanksgiving was celebrated the first Thursday of November, because of a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson, and, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday of November for Thanksgiving Day.  

In all other years, until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated as Lincoln had designated, the last Thursday in November.  Things got mucked up in 1939, though.

In that year, retailers lobbied President Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving back one week in order to allow for a longer Christmas shopping season.  Roosevelt complied by way of an executive order.  No one was happy with that!  Many complained that it was a straight-up money grab and some states refused to comply.  

Roosevelt admitted his mistake and moved the holiday back to the fourth Thursday of the month.  Congress, however, wasn’t taking any chances and passed a bill that prevented any future president from moving Thanksgiving off of the fourth Thursday of November.  

Interesting, but none of this answers the question: Why Thursday?  That’s because the closest thing we have to an answer is that at the time Thursday was chosen as the day of the week for Thanksgiving, there was no such thing as a weekend.  The only day to be avoided was Sunday because that was the day everyone was at church all day.  Every other day of the week was up for grabs in terms of assigning a holiday and Thursday was randomly chosen; first by George Washington and then by Abraham Lincoln.  

With the advent of the weekend (thanks to trade unions) a Thursday Thanksgiving Holiday has made for an extended, four-day weekend.  That’s certainly something to be Thankful for!

See you in church,

–Rev. Dominic