Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Chaotic Years With Two Thanksgiving Days

The celebration of a national Day of Thanksgiving has, over the years, been mostly a matter of Presidential Proclamations (Washington 1789 and Lincoln l863), which were normally followed by similar proclamations by the governors of the several states. It takes a liberal to really muck things up however.

In 1939 FDR was pressured by powerful retail interests to push back Thanksgiving Day to one week earlier. That year Thanksgiving Day fell on November 30 and retailers believed that the official date provided too few shopping days until Christmas. These were the final days of The Great Depression and FDR was anxious, as were business interests, to bolster consumer spending in the crucial shopping days of the Christmas season. Accordingly Roosevelt, on October 31, 1939, proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to be Thursday Nov 23, 1939.

There was an immediate uproar; suddenly calendars were wrong, school vacations and test dates were affected, family celebrations were disrupted with various members having different days off. The mayor of Atlantic City (NJ) derisively called the holiday "Franksgiving".

As mentioned above the state governors ordinarily issued their own proclamations following the direction of the president but in this case state's rights came to the fore. 23 state governors followed the new dictum and 23 others failed to follow along. Two states, Colorado and Texas celebrated both days!

The folly continued into 1940. Franklin Roosevelt once again proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the third Thursday in November. This time 31 states fell in line and the confusion continued until, finally on December 26, 1941, Congress passed a law that Thanksgiving Day shall be the fourth Thursday in November. (Unaccountably this does not explain what happened in November 1941 but all authorities seem to agree that the issue was settled by Congress as indicated)

Further Reading:
How FDR changed Thanksgiving
Pictorial History of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
America's Hometown: The Annual Thanksgiving parade in Plymouth MA

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