Thanksgiving Day

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Thanksgiving Day is a legal holiday in the United States and in Canada, first celebrated in early colonial times in New England. The actual origin, however, is probably the harvest festivals that are traditional in many parts of the world. 

After the first harvest was completed by the Plymouth colonists in 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer, shared by all the colonists and neighbouring Native Americans. In 1623 a day of fasting and prayer during a period of drought was changed to one of thanksgiving because the rain came during the prayers. 

Gradually the custom prevailed in New England of annually celebrating thanksgiving after the harvest. During the American War of Independence a yearly day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress.

  • USA 2001.  Thanksgiving (See details and a larger scan below on this page).


  • United Nations, New York.

  • United Nations, Geneva.

  • United Nations, Vienna. 

In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom, and by the middle of the 19th century many other states had done the same. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a day of thanksgiving, and since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, generally designating the fourth Thursday of November as a holiday.  

The year 2000 was proclaimed International Year of Thanksgiving, and on 1st January 2000 the United Nations' three offices in New York, Geneva (Switzerland), and Vienna (Austria), issued a very nice joint set of stamps in celebration of Thanksgiving.  The stamps show all the same Cornucopia, which has more or less become the "icon" of Thanksgiving, and really is the "Glory Window" from the Thanksgiving Chapel, Dallas, Texas. On the upper selvedge is printed the logo of the United Nations, together with the year 2000.  The artist is Gabrielle Loire (France), and the designer is Rorie Katz (USA).  The stamps are shown here largely oversized; their real measure is 3*4 cm.  

Also three beautiful First Day Covers were issued.  The covers are absolutely similar, except for the postmarks.  Below is the cover from the United Nations, New York, and the cancels from each of the three administrations.

  • First Day Cover, cancelled at the United Nations, New York, on 1st January 2000.

  • The different cancels on the First Day Covers from the three administrations, New York, Geneva, and Vienna, respectively.  They all show the Cornucopia in one way or the other. 

From USPS Press Release 19th October 2001

Since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday of every November has been set aside as a special day for families in the United States to give thanks. The U.S. Postal Service honors this tradition with the issuance of the Thanksgiving stamp today as part of its Holiday Celebrations series. The stamp, depicting a cornucopia overflowing with fruits and vegetables, was issued in Thanks-Giving Square. 

"The Thanksgiving stamp provides a meaningful way for Americans to honor the tradition of being thankful for the many blessings we have as American citizens," said Einar Dyhrkopp, a member of the presidentially appointed Postal Service Board of Governors, who dedicated the stamp.  The U.S. Thanksgiving holiday stems from a rich history of celebrations. The best known of these is the first harvest festival at Plymouth, Mass., where in autumn 1621 some 50 colonists and 90 Native Americans gathered for a three-day feast to offer thanks for a bountiful harvest.

The Center for World Thanksgiving at Thanks-Giving Square is an international resource devoted to gathering and sharing the thanksgivings of the United States and the world. The Square serves as the sponsor or site for a variety of ongoing activities dedicated to revitalizing the spirit of thanksgiving. Thanks-Giving Square was formally established in 1981.  Artist Margaret Cusack designed and created the machine appliqued needlework -- a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, inscribed above with the words "We Give Thanks"-- that is featured on the Thanksgiving stamp. The needlework, which is partially quilted and made of old and new fabrics, is reminiscent of American folk art stitchery. 

Cusack has been honored for her art by the Society of Illustrators, "Print" magazine and the Art Directors Club. She also designed and created needlework art that appeared on a December 1997 "Time" magazine cover.  

This is Cusack's first project for the Postal Service. Richard Sheaff of Scottsdale, Ariz. is the art director.  The First Day Cancellation was made in Dallas, Texas, on 21st October 2001.  Please note that the United Nations issue depicts the "Glory Window", Thanksgiving Chapel, Dallas. 

  • USA 2001.  Large image of the Thanksgiving stamp, shown at the top of the page. 

Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in Canada, celebrated since 1957 on the second Monday in October.  Observance of the day began in 1879. 

Apart from the US and Canada also Brazil observes Thanksgiving.  

Brazil 1975. Thanksgiving Day (Scott #1417).

The celebration began in the 1940s when the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S. was invited to a Thanksgiving service at the National Cathedral in Washington, and liked the idea.  He took it home and Brazil has celebrated a Thanksgiving ever since.  The earliest stamp noticed was on Nov 27, 1975.  

  • Brazil 1975. Thanksgiving Day (Scott #1417).  

There seems to be one each year after that:  Nov 25, 1976 (Scott # 1489), Nov 24, 1977 (Scott # 1540), Nov 23, 1978 (Scott # 1596), and so on for years.  Issue dates appear to be in  late November, and I am guessing that they are issued on or just before Thanksgiving in Brazil (the equator runs through the country, so there are no true reason to stimulate logical harvest celebrations, the origin of our Thanksgiving here in the northern hemisphere).  I would assume there are many more in this series.   

Norfolk Island a self governing Australian Territory. Thanksgiving Day on Norfolk Island is a statutory holiday when all public offices close.  American whalers of the 19th Century are believed to have established the observance.graves of Americans exist on the Island. The island community, particularly the Pitcairn descendants, decorate churches with farm produce and attend packed Thanksgiving services before holding family picnics.

Thanksgiving is featured on the 1976 25c bi-centennial stamp of Norfolk Island. 

Information provided by Rodney Cork (Australia). 

Revised 11 feb 2007 
Copyright © by Ann Mette Heindorff
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