Thanksgiving: A National Holiday


Getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving? In addition to giving thanks, use this holiday as an opportunity for civic learning.

  • Thanksgiving commemorates a feast shared by colonists and Native Americans in Plymouth in 1621. This started a tradition of harvest celebrations that lasted for 2 centuries.
  • In 1777, the Continental Congress declared the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving. George Washington, then a war leader (later to be president) declared Thanksgiving to be a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British.
  • In 1863 - in the middle of the Civil War - President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday.
  • In December 1941, President Roosevelt set a fixed date for Thanksgiving - the 4th Thursday in November.

Some questions to think about and discuss:

  • Why did Thanksgiving start?
  • Can you think of other situations where two different groups are brought together to share a meal?
  • Are there similarities between the way Thanksgiving was organized by local leaders and how decisions and policies are made by local leaders in our community?
  • What are the traditional Thanksgiving foods? Why do we eat different things for Thanksgiving than on another holiday, such as the Fourth of July?
  • Why was Thanksgiving made official in 1777? Why did George Washington say it was a victory celebration?
  • Why did President Lincoln declare Thanksgiving as a national holiday? Is it significant that he did it in 1863?
  • Why did President Roosevelt set the annual date for Thanksgiving? Why was this done in December 1941?
  • If you were President, would you declare a national holiday? What would it be and why? Write your proclamation, read it out loud and discuss with your family or classroom.
  • Do other countries celebrate Thanksgiving? What is similar or different?
  • Does Thanksgiving impact the economy? How? Which industries?
  • Have you attended a Thanksgiving parade or watched one on TV? What are the different kinds of government involved in the parade including planning the parade route and keeping the streets safe?

Tags: events and holidays, executive, federal government, history, leadership, legislative, local government, president, primary sources

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