MANCHESTER - More than likely few Americans stop to consider the origins of celebrating Thanksgiving every year on the last Thursday of November. Why not a Friday or a Saturday? The answer lies in a bit of Lincoln history.

On Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the first annual national "Thanksgiving Proclamation" designating the last Thursday of November as the official annual day of celebration for our nation. The Civil War president was hopeful that the end of the war was in sight and so viewed the holiday as a time for a weary people to pause and give thanks.

At The Lincoln Family Home at Hildene, Thanksgiving marks the end of the very busy days of autumn and signals the arrival of the festive holiday season and winter. Often described as having an air of simple elegance, this special place was a retreat, the family's home away from home.

To honor President Lincoln's role in making Thanksgiving a day of celebration for all Americans and to acknowledge Abe's relentless curiosity and ability to tackle the most serious of challenges, Hildene invites visitors to "Guess the Lincoln Pennies in the Jar." The contest commences on Monday, Nov. 19 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 2, the conclusion of Open House Weekend at The Museum Store. Youth ages 5 to 15, accompanied by an adult, are invited to stop by the Welcome Center during this time to record their estimate of how many Lincoln pennies there are in the jar. The winner will be the person whose guess comes closest to the total number of pennies. They will receive a check in their name for the actual amount and a matching check will be sent to Superstorm Sandy relief efforts. Adults, those 16 and older, may also participate by submitting a guess. In this case the winner will receive a copy of "Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln," written by Jason Emerson, a Lincoln scholar and former Hildene Scholar in Residence. This biography of Robert Lincoln is the first to be written in more than four decades. Author and historian, Thomas Craughwell says of Emerson's work, "Here at last is a biography Lincoln aficionados have been waiting for an intimate, in-depth portrait that will be praised, quoted, and consulted for years to come." Only one entry per person is allowed and no admission fee or store purchase is required to "Guess the Pennies in the Jar."

Hildene's longstanding tradition of an open house at The Museum Store, "Our House for the Holidays," continues this year on Saturday, December 1 and Sunday, Dec. 2. The Lincoln Family Home at Hildene is open daily from 9:30 to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $16 for adults and $5 for children under 14. Members, volunteers and children under 6 are free. The historic site is closed Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day, and Dec. 24 and 25 for the holidays. For more information visit www.hildene .org, call 802-362-1788 or email info@hildene.org.