I hesitate to remind you that Thanksgiving was once a partisan issue, but you might find this useful to divert weird uncle Emmitt from talking impeachment during Thanksgiving dinner.
Yup. At one time, the Democrats had their Thanksgiving and we Republicans had ours.
Here’s the story:
In the beginning, 53 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians held a three-day feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest in Massachusetts in 1691, recognized as our first Thanksgiving. But it wasn’t. British colonists celebrated similarly in Virginia as early as 1619, but who’s picky?
Legend has it that we’ve been celebrating happily ever since. Not so fast, Pilgrim. We haven’t.
As president, George Washington proclaimed our first national Thanksgiving in 1789, but it occurred on various dates in different states. Before that, different religious leaders, governors and even John Hancock proclaimed regional celebrations.
By 1800, the final Thursday in November was Thanksgiving in most states. Why? Well it was already Evacuation Day, so I suppose legislators figured they might as well get a twofer holiday.
What was Evacuation Day? Oh, that was the day the British finally left following the Revolutionary War.
After Washington, succeeding presidents declared an official Thanksgiving each year, but still left it up to the states to decide when.
Then came Abraham Lincoln, who, in a grand gesture, officially proclaimed a national Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November, not considering November sometimes has five Thursdays and sometimes four.
He explicitly decreed that it was to celebrate the bounties that continued to fall on the Union and for military successes in the Civil War. Trouble was, the Civil War was still ongoing. So, that proclamation didn’t take until after Reconstruction in the 1870s.
Afterwards, Thanksgiving was still decreed each year as the last Thursday in November.
Now, this part might be hard to comprehend, but there was a time when retail merchants had an aversion to displaying Christmas items until after Thanksgiving. Seriously. It was a thing.
So, in 1939, at the end of the Great Depression, the Retail Dry Goods Association realized that Thanksgiving would be the fifth Thursday, or November 30, that year. And that would shorten the Christmas buying season by a week. So, they urgently appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the calendar was going to crimp Christmas and depress the economy.
FDR didn’t want that, so he declared Thanksgiving should be held on the third Thursday of the month that year.
Problem was, he didn’t decide until August.
That set off the donnybrook known as “Franksgiving,” or Democrat Thanksgiving.
Republican states subsequently celebrated the fourth Thursday of the month, while Democrat states went with FDR’s third, which led to much upheaval and protest.
Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s opponent in the previous election, said that more time should have been taken working out the details, instead of “springing it on an unprepared country,” as it affected millions of holiday plans.
Most importantly, in my view, college football teams already had their schedules set with many season-ending rivalry games fixed for what they thought would be Thanksgiving but wasn’t.
By 1941, 16 states were celebrating the Republican fourth-Thursday Thanksgiving, while 32 and the District of Columbia observed FDR’s week earlier third-Thursday date.
And so, the fight persisted until a Commerce Department survey came out later that year finding there was no significant increase in retail sales due to the longer season.
So, Congress came to a rare consensus independent of the president, and passed a joint resolution finally designating the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day.
It was signed by President Roosevelt on Nov. 26, 1941, 10 days before the events at Pearl Harbor.
So, although most states immediately changed their laws, it wasn’t until after the end of World War II, in 1945, that the new fourth-Thursday date would stick.
Even then, it wasn’t universal. The last last-Thursday-of-November Thanksgiving was celebrated in Texas in 1956.
Therefore, have a Happy Thanksgiving, whenever you celebrate.