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Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a national holiday since 1870. Although the President of the United States had the discretion to set the specific day on which Thanksgiving would be celebrated, for the most part, each president after Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as the national Thanksgiving holiday. This changed, however, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November as an economic strategy – a way to extend the Christmas shopping season and help businesses still struggling from the Great Depression. 

This change was met by great opposition and in 1941 Michigan Representative Earl Michener of Michigan introduced a House Joint Resolution seeking to return to “the old custom of the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.” The President reluctantly signed this bill into law in December of 1941. 

While Thanksgiving has lost most of its original religious significance, families continue to celebrate this day by sharing a feast with family and friends – and others, through hosting free dinners for individuals and families in need. 

Some Indigenous people, however, have celebrated this day as a National Day of Mourning since 1970. Myths remain that friendly Indians welcomed the Pilgrims and other European settlers, taught them how to live on this land, then conceded this land to white people so that the rest of the world could benefit. This erases the lived experience of the genocide of millions, the theft of Native lands and the erasure of their cultures. Read more about these myths and the history of Thanksgiving, here.

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