CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – When did Thanksgiving become a national holiday? It came about, thanks to the persistence of an influential woman writer, and her correspondence with the 16th President of the United States.
The traditional story of Thanksgiving, is the Pilgrims and the Indians, the one repeated in school history books, with the cold and seasick Pilgrims, stepping off the Mayflower, onto Plymouth Rock in 1620. Actually, it never happened, despite being immortalized in American legend for generations.
In fact, the first national Thanksgiving Day did not invoke the Pilgrims at all. The 74-year-old Sarah Josepha Hale was a magazine editor from Philadelphia. She is credited with writing the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb,” but in September 1863, she wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln.
She explained, “you may have observed that….for some years past…. there has been an increasing interest felt in our land…. to have Thanksgiving held on the same day…. in all the States. It now needs National recognition, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”
Before this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions advocating for a national Thanksgiving date for 15 years.
Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving will be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of November. And think about that for a second, on November 19th, 1863, Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest and most eloquent speeches of all time. Just one week later, his proclamation for a national Thanksgiving Day was enacted and observed, and it’s been that way ever since.