A holiday just for eating — is Thanksgiving great, or what? But with a Canadian in the family, I struggle to explain a few of the basic features of this holiday, such as why it is in November rather than October, or why football games (always hosted by the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys) are an integral feature of the day. So I did some online research.
For these important questions (and every other question short of The Meaning of Life) I turn to Wikipedia, which tells us the following regarding Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims set apart a day for thanksgiving at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621; the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the first time in 1630, and frequently thereafter until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony . . . . However, it did not become an "official" holiday until 1863, when President Lincoln declared it to be the last Thursday in November. But "last Thursday in November" is too simple a rule for the government:
In 1939, President Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be the penultimate (second to last) Thursday of November rather than the last. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought this would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would aid bringing the country out of the Depression. At the time, it was considered inappropriate to advertise goods for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. However, Roosevelt’s declaration was not mandatory; 23 states went along with this recommendation, and 22 did not. Other states, like Texas, could not decide and took both weeks as government holidays. Roosevelt persisted in 1940 to celebrate his "Franksgiving," as it was termed. The United States Congress in 1941 split the difference and established that the Thanksgiving would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes the next to last.
Nothing about football in the Wikipedia article, but it does note that a number of U.S. television programs have featured Thanksgiving Day specials. Friends, a program that aired on Thursday nights, was especially noted for this. And thus are traditions born in America: from turkey to football to Friends.