However, many localities had made a tradition of celebrating on the last Thursday, and since a presidential declaration of Thanksgiving Day was not legally binding, it was widely disregarded. Twenty-three states went along with Roosevelt's recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texas, could not decide and took both weeks as government holidays. Critics termed Roosevelt's dating of the holiday as "Franksgiving."
1941 to present
President Truman receiving a Thanksgiving turkey from members of the Poultry and Egg National Board and other representatives of the turkey industry, outside the White House
The U.S. Congress in 1941 split the difference and passed a bill requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes (less frequently) the next to last. On December 26 of that year President Roosevelt signed this bill, for the first time making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law. See 55 Stat. 862 (1941).
Since 1947, or possibly earlier, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys, in a ceremony known as the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. The live turkey is pardoned and lives out the rest of its days on a peaceful farm. While it is commonly held that this pardoning tradition began with Harry Truman in 1947, the Truman Library has been unable to find any evidence for this. The earliest on record is with George H. W. Bush in 1989. Still others claim that the tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. Both stories have been quoted in more recent presidential speeches. In more recent years, two turkeys have been pardoned, in case the original turkey becomes unavailable for presidential pardoning.
Since 1970, a group of Native Americans and other assorted protesters (mostly of progressive political persuasion) have held a National Day of Mourning protest on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the name of social equality and in honor of political prisoners.
Foods of the season
U.S. tradition compares the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Wampanoag and the Puritans who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This element continues in modern times with the Thanksgiving dinner, often featuring turkey, playing a large role in the celebration of Thanksgiving. Some of the details of the American Thanksgiving story are myths that developed in the 1890s and early 1900s as part of the effort to forge a common national identity in the aftermath of the Civil War and in the melting pot of new immigrants.
Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner
In the United States, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. First and foremost, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, other fall vegetables, and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. All of these primary dishes are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived. As an alternative to turkey, many vegetarians or vegans eat tofurky, a meatless turkey made of tofu.
To feed the needy at Thanksgiving time, most communities have annual food drives that collect non-perishable packaged and canned foods, and corporations sponsor charitable distributions of staple foods and Thanksgiving dinners.
Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner
Thanksgiving was originally a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose. Historic reasons for community thanksgivings include the 1541 thanksgiving mass after the expedition of Coronado safely crossing part of Texas and finding game, and the 1777 thanksgiving after the victory in the revolutionary battle of Saratoga. In his 1789 Proclamation, President Washington gave many noble reasons for a national Thanksgiving, including "for the civil and religious liberty," for "useful knowledge," and for God's "kind care" and "His Providence." The only presidents to inject a specifically Christian focus to their proclamation have been Grover Cleveland in 1896, and William McKinley in 1900. Several other presidents have cited the Judeo-Christian tradition. Gerald Ford's 1975 declaration made no clear reference to any divinity.
The tradition of giving thanks to God is continued today in various forms. Religious and spiritual organizations offer services and events on Thanksgiving themes the week-end before, the day of, or the week-end after Thanksgiving. Bishop Ryan observed about Thanksgiving Day, "It is the only day we have that consistently finds Catholics at Mass in extraordinary numbers...even though it is not a holy day of obligation."
In celebrations at home, it is a holiday tradition in many families to begin the Thanksgiving dinner by saying grace. Found in diverse religious traditions, grace is a prayer before or after a meal to express appreciation to God, to ask for God's blessing, or in some philosophies, to express an altruistic wish or dedication. The custom is portrayed in the photograph "Family Holding Hands and Praying Before a Thanksgiving Meal." The grace may be led by the hostess or host, as has been traditional, or, in contemporary fashion, each person may contribute words of blessing or thanks. According to a 1998 Gallup poll, an estimated 64 percent of Americans say grace.
Vacation and travel
On Thanksgiving Day, families and friends usually gather for a large meal or dinner, the result being that the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. In the United States, Thanksgiving is a four-day or five-day weekend vacation in school and college calendars. Most business and government workers (78% in 2007) are also given both Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays. Thanksgiving Eve, on the Wednesday night before, has been one of the busiest nights of the year for bars and clubs, both in terms of sales and volume of patrons, as many students have returned to their hometowns from college.
In Buffalo, New York, the Saturday after Thanksgiving is the day of the World's Largest Disco, a tribute to disco and the 1970s that regularly draws thousands of dancers and the top performing acts of the 1970s.
In New York City, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (often erroneously referred to as the "Macy's Day Parade") is held annually every Thanksgiving Day from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Macy's flagship store in Herald Square, and televised nationally by NBC. The parade features parade floats with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters and TV personalities, and high school marching bands. The float that traditionally ends the Macy's Parade is the Santa Claus float, the arrival of which unofficially signifies that the Christmas season has begun.
The Pittsburgh and Minneapolis parades are co-sponsored by Macy's. Several other parades have a loose association with Thanksgiving, thanks to CBS's now-discontinued All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage. Parades that were covered during this era were the Aloha Floral Parade held in Honolulu, Hawaii every September, the Toronto Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the Opryland Aqua Parade (held from 1996 to 2001 by the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville); the Opryland parade was discontinued replaced by a taped parade in Miami Beach, Florida in 2002. A Disneyland parade was also featured on CBS until Disney purchased rival ABC.
Since being fixed at the fourth Thursday in November by law in 1941, the holiday in the United States can occur as early as November 22 to as late as November 28. When it falls on November 22 or 23, it is not the last Thursday, but the second to last Thursday in November. As it is a Federal holiday, all United States government offices are closed and employees are paid for that day. It is also a holiday for the New York Stock Exchange, and also for most other financial markets and financial services companies.
Future Thanksgiving dates 2009–2014
November 26, 2009
November 25, 2010
November 24, 2011
November 22, 2012
November 28, 2013
November 27, 2014
Friday after Thanksgiving
The Friday after Thanksgiving, although not a Federal holiday, is often a company holiday for many in the U.S. workforce, except for those in retail. It is also a day off for most schools. The Friday after Thanksgiving is popularly known as Black Friday, so-called because of the heavy shopping traffic on that day. Black Friday is considered to be the start of the Christmas shopping season.
Advent (Christmas) season
The secular Thanksgiving holiday also coincides with the start of the four week Advent season before Christmas in the Western Christian church calendars. Advent starts on the 4th Sunday before Christmas Day on December 25; in other words, the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive.