Prior to a change instituted by President Roosevelt I understand United States Thanksgiving was the last Thursday in November.

This is invariably the last Thursday before Advent Sunday (Nov 27 - Dec 3).

My question is whether this was deliberately intended to be the last Thursday before Advent, or if not was there some other reason.

  • Is this question on-topic?
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 12:30
  • 1
    It seems to be on topic since the question involves the possible reason why a national holiday may be linked to a liturgical calendar. In this case the first Sunday of Advent
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 12:59
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about Christianity. Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday. This would be better off on the History site. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 14:28

3 Answers 3


Why was Thanksgiving in the US traditionally the last Thursday before Advent?

The Short answer is: There seems to be no connection between Thanksgiving Day and the First Sunday of Advent. However, the number of shopping days after Thanksgiving influenced the move from the Last Thursday of November (1863) to the Fourth Thursday of November (1939).

In fact the First Thanksgiving was held by the Pilgrims in October 1621.

The event that Americans commonly call the "First Thanksgiving" was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621. This feast lasted three days, and—as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow — it was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating "thanksgivings"—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought. - Thanksgiving (United States)

While turkey is today the bird of choice for Thanksgiving dinners across the United States, this was not always the case: according to History.com, for the first ever Thanksgiving in 1621 the Indians killed five deer as a gift for the colonists, meaning venison would most likely have been the dish of the day.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It originated as a harvest festival. Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, with a proclamation by George Washington after a request by Congress. Thomas Jefferson chose not to observe the holiday, and its celebration was intermittent until the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, when Thanksgiving became a federal holiday in 1863, during the American Civil War. Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the date was changed to the fourth Thursday in November, an innovation that endures to this day. Together with Christmas and the New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader fall–winter holiday season in the U.S. Thanksgivng (United States)

President Abraham Lincoln chose that the Last Thursday of November to be that of Thanksgiving because of the decisive victory the Union Army had at Gettysburg.

On this day (October 3) in 1863, expressing gratitude for a pivotal Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln announces that the nation will celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863. - Lincoln proclaims official Thanksgiving holiday

The final change from the Last Thursday of November to the Fourth Thursday of November was not influenced by the First Sunday of Advent but by the number of shopping days left before Christmas.

At the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, Thanksgiving was not a fixed holiday; it was up to the President to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation to announce what date the holiday would fall on. However, Thanksgiving was always the last Thursday in November because that was the day President Abraham Lincoln observed the holiday when he declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Franklin Roosevelt continued that tradition, but he soon found that tradition was difficult to keep in extreme circumstances such as the Great Depression. His first Thanksgiving in office, 1933, fell on November 30th, the last day of the month, because November had five Thursdays that year. Since statistics showed that most people did not do their Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving, business leaders feared they would lose money, especially during the Depression, because there were only 24 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They asked Franklin Roosevelt to make Thanksgiving one week earlier. President Roosevelt ignored those concerns in 1933, but when Thanksgiving once again threatened to fall on the last day of November in 1939, FDR reconsidered the request and moved the date of Thanksgiving up one week. Thanksgiving 1939 would be held, President Roosevelt proclaimed, on November 23rd and not November 30th.

The fourth Thursday of November remained the annual day of Thanksgiving from 1863 until 1939. Then, at the tail-end of the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, hoping to boost the economy by providing shoppers and merchants a few extra days to conduct business between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, moved Thanksgiving to November’s third Thursday. In 1941, however, Roosevelt bowed to Congress’ insistence that the fourth Thursday of November be re-set permanently, without alteration, as the official Thanksgiving holiday. - Lincoln proclaims official Thanksgiving holiday

  • A couple of the quotes above contradict each other – the second quote says that starting in 1863 Thanksgiving was always on the last Thursday of November, and in your commentary you mention that in the 5-week November of 1939, President Roosevelt moved it back a week to the fourth week. But the last quote says that from 1863 to 1939 it was always on the fourth Thursday in November, and President Roosevelt moved it back to the third Thursday. Which is correct? Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 23:06
  • (November 1939 did have 5 Thursdays: timeanddate.com/calendar/?year=1939&country=1) Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 23:10

Ken Graham has answered your question, but it appears that the first Thanksgiving took place in Virginia on 4 December 1619. These quotes come from a Catholic source: Is Thanksgiving was a civil holiday or a religious holiday?

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkely Plantation on the James River near present Charles City, Virginia. The settlement’s charter required that the day of arrival be commemorated as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.

Thanksgiving is definitely a religious holiday rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of our country. Although the secularism of our present culture may have turned the focus more to feasting, football, and family gathering, we must not forget the history and the religious significance of this American holiday.

However, we must not forget that the Pilgrims were well steeped in the Bible. Governor Bradford’s idea for a celebration of thanksgiving was inspired by the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles, one of Israel’s three major feasts, also known as the Feast of Ingathering or Booths.

The article goes into the history of the dates when Thanksgiving was celebrated, and says this:

After the Revolutionary War, at the request of Congress, President George Washington declared that Thursday, November 26, 1789, would be for the people of the United States a day of thanksgiving: “As a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and single favors of Almighty God.” The declaration exhorted the people to “beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”

The fourth Thursday of November would continue as the national day of Thanksgiving until 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt moved it one week earlier to help businesses by lengthening the Christmas shopping period. Finally in 1941, Congress legislated that Thanksgiving would be observed on the fourth Thursday of November and would be a federal holiday.

It seems that Thanksgiving has become secularised but that should not detract from its origins. Regardless of what date is fixed, or whether, like Easter, it is “a moveable feast,” Christians celebrate Thanksgiving as a way of giving thanks to God. Like Christmas, it isn’t compulsory for non-Christians. But please, let us not forget it has Christian origins.

  • @Ken Graham - appreciate your edit. I just don't know how to copy and paste a link so it gives the title of the document. My I.T. skills are lacking in that department, I fear.
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 17:34

Consider this answer an extended comment, subject to deletion or removal to History.

The short answer to the main question is no, as far as we know there was never any consideration of synchronizing the Thanksgiving holiday with the advent season. At the same time, we should be aware that the origin of Thanksgiving is based entirely on Christian sentiments of prayerfulness, and was originally as much a religious holiday as the annual day of prayer [citation needed].

The other answers have answered the question well and given a bit of the history of the Thanksgiving celebration. There is some confusion about the dates of celebration though. The dates of the celebration, at least since it became a regular event in 1863,seem to have been either the last Thursday in November (usually the fourth, but sometimes the fifth); the fourth Thursday in November, or (actual celebration or only proposed?) the third Thursday in November.

In 1863, at a time of national crisis, President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving, which previously had been celebrated in some places, a national holiday according to this article:

On the urging of poet and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, the 16th president took what had been a festival celebrated disparately across the country and made it a national holiday, to be observed on the last Thursday of November. (In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would move it to the fourth Thursday of the month.)

This article adds some more details. President George Washington had declared the nation's first Thanksgiving in 1789. Since that time many states and organizations had celebrated Thanksgiving, but not on a national basis. Lincoln himself had closed government offices for a thanksgiving celebration on November 28, 1861.

The full text of Lincoln's proclamation is at that page. Notice that it sets the date, "the last Thursday of November next", setting a precedent which was apparently followed without much objection until 1933, when merchants desired more shopping days until Christmas.

History.com gives many more details about Thanksgiving. The holiday originated in 1621 when the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for their survival and the help of Native Americans, who apparently brought most of the food. A Thanksgiving was celebrated again in 1623 after fasting for relief of drought. Fasting and Thanksgiving became a common but irregular custom thereafter.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidencies.

Apparently President Franklin Roosevelt resisted the request to change the date of Thanksgiving in 1933, but in 1939 the history.com article claims he "moved it up a week", which I assume meant it would be the second-to-last week in November; usually the third but sometimes the fourth Thursday.

... [in] 1939, ... Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

Note: I ask your indulgence in not upvoting nor downvoting this until we figure out where or if this belongs. My apologies for getting carried away and forgetting this is not a Wikipedia article.

  • I just had to find out what weeks had been celebrated as Thanksgiving. Even now, I'm not sure exactly which Thursdays were celebrated from 1933 to 1940, and not positive I understand the Franksgiving rule. Please feel free to use this info in your answer; the rest may or may not go to history.
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 23:28

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