Thanksgiving Dat, an annual religious festival, observed in the United States, and particularly in New England, suggested by the Hebrew feast of tabernacles, or "feast of ingathering at the end of the year." The occasional observance of a day of thanksgiving, formally recommended by the civil authorities, was not unusual in Europe, and such a day was observed in Leyden, Holland, Oct. 3, 1575, the first anniversary of the deliverance of that city from siege. In 1608 the Pilgrim church, exiled from England, went to Holland, and remained there "till 1620, when it sent off the Mayflower colony to New England. After the first harvest of the colonists at Plymouth in 1621, Gov. Bradford sent four men out fowling, that they " might after a more special manner rejoice together." In July, 1623, a day of fasting and prayer was appointed on account of drought. Rain came abundantly while they were praying, and the governor appointed day of thanksgiving, which was observed with religious services. The Charles-town records show a similar change of fast day into thanksgiving in 1631 on account of the arrival of supplies from Ireland. In June, 1632, Gov. Winthrop, of the Massachusetts Bay colony, recommended a day of thanksgiving on account of action of the British privy council favorable to the colonies, and invited the governor of Plymouth colony to unite with him.
There is record of the official appointment of days of thanksgiving in Massachusetts Bay in 1633, 1634, 1637, 1638, and 1639, sometimes of more than one day in the same year, and in Plymouth in 1651, 1668, 1680 (when the form of the recommendation indicates that it had become an annual custom), 1689, and 1600. The earlier of these appointments were at different seasons of the year, and for special reasons, particularly for the arrival of ships with provisions and new colonists; but the later were more generally for the harvest, and were in the late autumn or early winter.' Occasional thanksgiving days were appointed by the Dutch governors of New Netherland in 1644, 1645, 1655, and 1664, and by the English governors of New York in 1755 and 1760. During the revolution thanksgiving day was a national institution, being annually recommended by congress; but after the general thanksgiving for peace in 1784 there was no national appointment till 1789, when President Washington, by request of congress, recommended a day of thanksgiving for the adoption of the constitution. Washington issued a second thanksgiving proclamation in 1795 on account of the suppression of insurrection.
President Madison, by request of congress, recommended thanksgiving for peace in April, 1815. But the official recommendation of thanksgiving day was mainly confined to New England, where regular annual proclamations were issued by the governors of the states, and the day was observed almost universally with religious services, and was the principal social and home festival of the year. The prayer book of the Protestant Episcopal church, ratified in 1789, recommends for a day of thanksgiving the first Thursday in November, unless another day be appointed by the civil authorities. There was occasional recommendation by other religious bodies, and various local customs prevailed in different parts of the country; but the day was not regularly recommended by the governor of New York till 1817, and its adoption in the southern states was much later. In 1855 Gov. Johnson of Virginia recommended a day of thanksgiving; but in 1857 Gov. Wise, being requested to do so, publicly declined, because unauthorized to interfere in religious matters. In 1858 thanksgiving proclamations were issued by the governors of eight of the southern states.
During the civil war President Lincoln issued proclamations recommending special thanksgiving for victory in 1862 and 1863, and a national proclamation of the annual thanksgiving day in 1863 and 1864. Since that time such a proclamation has been issued annually by the president, as well as by the governors of the states and the mayors of the principal cities; and custom has fixed the time for the last Thursday in November.