When Thanksgiving was a Moving Target
November 25, 2009 by Chip Wood
Are you old enough to remember when Thanksgiving would have taken place last week? The story of why a few million turkeys now get an extra week to live is a great example of what government meddling can do. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story.
Although various “days of thanksgiving” had been proclaimed by Presidents since George Washington, it was first made a national holiday in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln wanted to give special thanks for the Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg. For the next 75 years, America celebrated Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November.
But in 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was persuaded to move the holiday a week earlier. Why? So there would be more shopping days before Christmas.
I kid you not. The country was still suffering from the Great Depression and FDR believed that with more days to shop, Americans would somehow spend more money, thus helping to revitalize the economy.
But instead of an economic boom, Roosevelt’s decision produced social chaos. Most schools and businesses had already scheduled their Thanksgiving holidays. Many colleges had planned their homecoming weekends for a week later, around a traditional Thanksgiving football game. Most devastated of all, however, were the calendar makers, who had already printed calendars for both 1939 and 1940 with what was now the wrong date for Thanksgiving.
A number of states refused to recognize the “new” day of Thanksgiving. Families with relatives in both New York and Connecticut couldn’t celebrate together because each state recognized a different day. The controversy didn’t end for three years, when Congress passed a law declaring that Thanksgiving would henceforth be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
Instead of Thanksgiving at home this year, we’re traveling north to visit some of our extended family. But we’re still looking forward to the traditional meal of turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce. I hope you enjoy a wonderful feast tomorrow as well. And that you’ll pause to give thanks for the many blessings we still enjoy.