Virginia settlers celebrating the first Thanksgiving held by British North Americans in 1619, long before they did in Massachusetts.

By Linda Cicoira

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     Thanksgiving has been celebrated on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on the fourth Thursday of November since at least 1941 when Congress passed a law making it that day. It had been on other Thursdays in November before that. And we all know that we celebrated Thanksgiving in Virginia long before they did so in that foreign land of Massachusetts.

    The holiday was first officially established in 1789, in the days of George Washington, a Virginian, as a proclamation to honor our new national constitution. During the 19th century, many states or commonwealths observed a day of thanks on their own, setting different dates.

      In the early 1860s, the editor of the monthly Philadelphia magazine led a campaign for a national date to be set coast to coast. Her quest gained presidential attention and on Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a National Day of Thanksgiving.

     However, because the last Thursday is sometimes the fifth Thursday, the date would occasionally cause the holiday shopping season to be shortened by a week. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was asked to change the date in 1933 and passed on the notion. But in 1939, he made storeowners and procrastinators happier and set Thanksgiving on the third Thursday.

     Some states liked the change while others continued to celebrate on the last Thursday. Finally, on Dec. 26, 1941, Congress passed a resolution that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November by law.