When did the First Thanksgiving take place?
The exact date of that first celebration is not known, says Jenny Pulsipher, an associate professor of history at Brigham Young University in Provo.
There are only two written accounts about the 1621 event in the Plymouth settlement, and neither mentions a date or month, although Pulsipher says the writings do reference the harvest having occurred, so the gathering did take place in the fall.
Celebrations of thanksgiving were commonplace in the lives of the Pilgrims, or Separatists, at Plymouth, says Kyle Bulthuis, assistant professor of history at Logan's Utah State University.
The settlers, who believed God had power over everything in their lives, would stop to give thanks if things were going well in their lives -- like a successful harvest or surviving a bad winter -- and observed days of fasting and prayer in times of trouble, Bulthuis says.
"They would have periodic days of fasting and days of thanksgiving depending on how their world was going," the professor says, so the celebration we call the First Thanksgiving was not seen as an occasion to necessarily be remembered or repeated.
Pulsipher adds that Americans never cared much about the origin of Thanksgiving until the 19th century, when citizens became more interested in discovering "national stories" about the founding of the country. At that time, they began to focus on this banquet between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.
However, other regions of the country also claim title to holding the "first" Thanksgiving, including Virginia and St. Augustine, Fla., Pulsipher says.
Various presidents, beginning with George Washington, declared days of thanksgiving over the decades, but it was a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale who campaigned for making the event a national holiday in the 1800s.
Hale kept pushing the idea and never got much traction with it, Pulsipher says, until during the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln decided such an event would be a good means of helping heal the wounds created by the war.
Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, and it was celebrated annually in the United States from then on. In 1941, Thanksgiving was established as a legal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November by a proclamation of Congress.