Why Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November

Thanksgiving is nearly here — and it's been a long time coming for fans of the holiday. This year, the festivities fall on the particularly late date of Nov. 28, as the feast is always celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the eleventh month.

That's no arbitrary date, either: As it turns out, there’s much more to the history of the federal holiday’s timing.

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As noted by the Farmer’s Almanac, settlers of Massachusetts and Virginia held feasts in the early 1600s to give thanks for successful harvest seasons. The most famous Thanksgiving on record was held in Plymouth in 1621, between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people.

In 1789, President George Washington christened Nov. 26 a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” that year to “recognize the role of providence” in establishing the new United States and federal Constitution. The American presidents who followed issued similar Thanksgiving proclamations in the years that followed, though the months and dates varied.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln announced that Thanksgiving would be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of November, and the declaration held credence for a time.

After the Great Depression rocked the nation in the 20th century, some folks were worried that 1939’s Thanksgiving date — which fell on the last day of the November — would prove detrimental to national economic recovery during the holiday season, per the National Archives.

In 1789, President George Washington christened Nov. 26 a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” that year to “recognize the role of providence” in establishing the new United States and federal Constitution.

In 1789, President George Washington christened Nov. 26 a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin” that year to “recognize the role of providence” in establishing the new United States and federal Constitution. (iStock)

In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation pushing Thanksgiving up to the second to last Thursday in November to create more “shoppable” days before Christmas.

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While well-intentioned, this ruling actually spawned its own set of problems, as 16 states rejected the date change and 32 states accepted it — and two Thanksgivings were effectively celebrated across the country.

“For two years, the holiday was celebrated at different times depending on where you lived,” Fox 10 reported.

Beteen 1939 and 1941, Thanksgiving was celebrated at different times across the country, depending where one lived.

Beteen 1939 and 1941, Thanksgiving was celebrated at different times across the country, depending where one lived. (iStock)

In 1941, Congress intervened and set an annual fixed-date for Thanksgiving. The House passed a resolution that confirmed Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday in November, and the Senate amended the resolution to specify the festivities as being held on the fourth Thursday, to accommodate for years when November has five Thursdays.

All parties involved agreed, and Roosevelt signed the resolution, per the National Archives.

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Ever since, the fourth Thursday in the eleventh month has been recognized as the official, federal Thanksgiving in the U.S. ever since — hopefully to the joy of cooks and foodies everywhere.