Harvest festivals of thanks have been around in many societies throughout history, and the U.S. Thanksgiving has roots in Pilgrims’ festivals at Plymouth, Mass. But it wasn’t until 1789, after the American Revolution, that President Washington declared a national day of thanks. That tradition continued until President Jefferson worried that it could be seen as government “intermeddling” in religion.
After the battle at Gettysburg, Lincoln proclaimed the holiday returned and for the first time formalized when the entire nation would celebrate it every year. Since many states refused to recognize Lincoln’s authority during the Civil War, the whole country didn’t celebrate at the same time until the 1870s. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tweaked the date a bit, to the fourth (rather than last) Thursday in November.
Now, Thanksgiving is one of the most important national holidays, with people typically traveling far and wide to visit family. The day before is often the biggest travel day of the year now. Last year, 43.6 million people traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA.
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