The White House Thanksgiving: History Of How Presidents Celebrate The Holiday

By | November 27, 2019

George Washington held multiple Thanksgiving celebrations

Thanksgiving has been an American tradition since before the country was actually a country, and over the 200-plus years that the United States has been thriving, Turkey Day has been celebrated in a myriad of different ways by our nation’s leaders. Some presidents went whole-hog---or whole-turkey, if you prefer---and had meals with all the trimmings, while others ignored the holiday completely. Our long list of presidents have celebrated the holiday just as differently as their constituents, which makes for a fascinating look back at the history of White House Thanksgivings. 

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President Washington was a man who liked to give thanks. The actual holiday that we know as Thanksgiving wasn't a thing in 1789, but throughout the Revolutionary War, Washington was known for hosting days of giving thanks, so it's not a wild revelation that he issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a day of public thanksgiving.

John Adams declared two days of thanksgiving in the spring

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In the early days of the Union, people weren't too hung up on having Thanksgiving in November. As straight-laced as the founding fathers were, they were big into doing their own thing, which is why John Adams declared two days of fasting and thanksgiving in May 1798 and April 1799. His second proclamation read in part:

I do hereby recommend accordingly, that Thursday, the 25th day of April next, be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain as far as may be from their secular occupations, devote the time to the sacred duties of religion in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come.

Later in life, Adams believed that his pronouncement of two thanksgivings, thus mixing church and state, is what kept him from winning another term in office.