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I first told you this in 2019, but it’s obvious that some of y’all don’t remember when Thanksgiving was a partisan issue. Right. Democrats had their Thanksgiving and we Republicans had ours. I tell you this again as this is my concept of public service.

OK, when weird uncle Emmitt brings up the Rittenhouse verdict, critical race theory, or the retreat from Afghanistan, immediately counter with this, the real Thanksgiving story.

In the beginning, 53 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians held a three-day feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest in Massachusetts in 1691, which is widely 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 big-signature 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 most legislators figured they’d get a twofer holiday.

Evacuation Day? That’s the day the British finally left the colonies following the Revolutionary War. Used to be a thing.

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 had 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 success. Trouble was, the Civil War wasn’t over, so that celebration didn’t take hold 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 another 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 which would shorten the Christmas shopping 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.

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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 Democratic states went with FDR’s third, which led to upheaval and protest.

Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s opponent in the 1936 election, said that more time should have been taken to work out the details instead of “springing it” on the country.

Most importantly in my view, college football teams already had their schedules set with many season-ending rivalry games playing on what they thought would be Thanksgiving Day but wasn’t.

By 1941, 16 states celebrated the Republican fourth-Thursday Thanksgiving, while 32 states and the District of Columbia observed FDR’s third-Thursday date.

And so, the donnybrook persisted until a Commerce Department survey came out later in 1941 finding no significant increase in retail sales during the longer selling season.

So, Congress came to a rare consensus, independent of the president’s wishes, and passed a joint resolution designating the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day.

It was signed by FDR on November 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 the war in 1945, that the new fourth-Thursday date stuck.

Even then it wasn’t universal. The last last-Thursday-of-November Thanksgiving was celebrated in Texas in 1956.

Anyway, have a happy Thanksgiving Thursday.

Tom Crouser is a business consultant living in Mink Shoals. Reach him at tom@crouser.com and follow @TomCrouser on Twitter. Also connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.

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