“The whole holiday harks back to events here in Plymouth in 1621, but has become something entirely different. It’s changed over time — it’s part of our national story, but it has moved very much away from where it originally started,” she said.
Roosevelt’s move lasted three years, but by 1941 Congress and the country had had enough. Acting with the kind of determination today’s lawmakers can only dream of, Congress quickly passed a bill declaring the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.
The great American holiday has spawned other controversies, including a long-running debate over who deserves credit for the first Thanksgiving.
Berkeley Plantation in Virginia says it beat the Massachusetts Pilgrims by a couple of years, and residents of El Paso, Texas, and St. Augustine, Fla., say their communities were holding celebratory feasts decades before that.
But Ms. Berry, at Pilgrim Hall Museum, said those other Thanksgivings were days of prayer and, most likely, of fasting — “more of a solemn occasion.” The Thanksgiving celebrated across America today most closely resembles the Massachusetts settlers’ harvest feast of 1621.
“There are a lot of places around the country that put in a claim as having the first Thanksgiving. But if you’re talking about the holiday, the national observance that we have on Thursday, the roots of that holiday go back to the Pilgrims in 1621,” she said.