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This Day in History: Carving Out a Piece of Thanksgiving History

Gobble up some history about Thanksgiving at the White House.


When was Thanksgiving officially established at the White House?

It all started on September 28, 1789, when the first Federal Congress asked President George Washington to declare a national day of thanksgiving. Just a few days later, George Washington issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring Thursday, November 26th as a national day of “public thanksgiving.”

However, it wasn’t until 1863 -- when President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November be marked as Thanksgiving -- that the holiday emerged as a national holiday.

But it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a little gravy mixed in with American history, right?

During the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, the holiday was moved to the third Thursday of November to lengthen the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy during the Great Depression. But in 1941, due to public outrage and controversy, Congress passed a law declaring that Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.

What are some of the Thanksgiving traditions the White House partakes in?

There are quite a few traditions here at the White House -- including a presidential turkey pardon, service projects, and a festive Thanksgiving dinner. Take a look at how Thanksgiving traditions have changed over time at the White House:

See the full-size gallery

Wait, so what’s the deal with the Turkey pardon?

President Obama's not just winging it when it comes to turkey pardons. This tradition has been gobbling up headlines for years. You can find out more about the definitive history of Turkey pardoning at the White House here . And to learn more about this year’s Turkey pardon, check out the talk of this turkey town here .

Can I make some of the same dishes eaten at Thanksgiving at the White House?

Yes! Below are some of the winter recipes directly from the White House kitchen. And you can also check out some recipes of administrations past here.

Shaved Fennel Salad with Pears and Walnuts
  • 1 large fennel bulb, washed
  • 2 ripe pears
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 oz. shaved parmesan cheese

Using a mandolin slicer, slice the fennel crosswise paper thin. Set aside. Slice the pears the same thickness, then lay out on the cutting board to cut into 1/4 inch strips. Place in a medium sized mixing bowl. Squeeze a whole lemon to prevent discoloration. Add the sliced fennel.

In a small mixing bowl, place the apple cider vinegar, shallot and honey. Whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Add the vinaigrette and parley to the fennel and pear mixture. Toss gently. Place in a platter and garnish with the shaved parmesan cheese.

Cauliflower and Cheddar Cheese Casserole
  • 1 medium head cauliflower,  cut into floret

For the Sauce:

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp  all purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp  Dijon mustard
  • 8 oz cheddar cheese, sharp, shredded, salt + pepper to taste

Crumb Topping: 

  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a baking sheet,   bake the crumb topping until browned.

Blanch the cauliflower in boiling water until tender, for about five minutes.  Shock in a bowl of iced water.  Drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over a medium heat.  Add the flour and stir until smooth.  Let cook until bubbly.   Add the milk and whisk vigorously.  Cook until the sauce is thickened.   Add the mustard and cheese and continue to mix until all the cheese has melted.  Season to taste.

Combine the drained cauliflower with the sauce and pour onto a buttered baking dish.

Bake for about twenty minutes or until the top is browned.

Top with the seasoned panko crumbs.  Serve immediately.

Historical Information in this post provided by the National Archives and the White House Historical Association.

Interested in finding out more about Thanksgiving at the White House or recipes? Be sure to check out these additional resources: