One Thanksgiving or two? When the President changed the date of Thanksgiving Day, people were shocked.
Ever since Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, Americans had been celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November. But in 1939, businesses were struggling to recover from the Great Depression, a time of economic hardship. Some people thought Thanksgiving was too close to Christmas. Maybe if Thanksgiving were earlier, people would start their Christmas shopping sooner.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a popular President who was willing to take on new things. He created many government programs to help end the Great Depression. He said, "It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
People Voice Their Opinions
On August 14, 1939, President Roosevelt announced, "I have been having from a great many people for the last six years, complaints that Thanksgiving Day came too close to Christmas ... and as there seems to be so much desire to have it come a little earlier, I am going to step it up one week." Thanksgiving would be on November 23, not November 30.
Some people liked the change, but others thought it was a terrible idea. "Roosevelt has no right to upset all our traditions," wrote one man. John Taylor, a calendar maker, wrote the President and told him that calendars for 1939 already showed Thanksgiving on November 30. Now, all of them would be wrong. Plus "millions of calendars for 1940 have already been printed and sold," wrote Mr. Taylor. They would be wrong, too.
And then there was the game of football. Many colleges held football games on Thanksgiving Day, and the games were already scheduled for November 30. Bill Walton, the football coach at Ouachita College in Arkansas, was so upset that he said he would not vote for Roosevelt, a Democrat. "We will vote the Republican ticket if he interferes with our football."
The States React
Several states followed President Roosevelt's proclamation and changed the holiday, but other states refused. The governor of Maine said, "The President may make any proclamation he desires for the District of Columbia regarding the observance of Thanksgiving Day, but we in Maine will continue to have our Thanksgiving the same time as we have down through the years."
The change also caused much confusion. A college student living in New York City wrote President Roosevelt: "Your recent decision to change the date of our Thanksgiving Day has just taken effect. ... Our director announced that our school vacation would begin on the twenty-third of November. ... However, where I come from, Connecticut, they'll be observing it on the thirtieth of November as usual. Really, this situation makes my heart ache because I love our Thanksgiving Holidays. ..."
Would radio stations play their special Thanksgiving broadcasts on November 23 or November 30? What about holiday travel? Buses, trains, and airports didn't know how to plan their schedules because they didn't know which day people would be traveling.
Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas solved the problem by celebrating both days. People joked that the holiday should be called "Franksgiving," after the President's first name, rather than "Thanksgiving."
In 1941, President Roosevelt admitted that the date change had not helped businesses much, and he announced that he was going to change the date back. Later that year, the U.S. Congress ended all the confusion and passed a law that made the fourth Thursday in November the official day for Thanksgiving. Two Thanksgivings might sound like a good idea, but most people were grateful for just one!
By Shannon Baker Moore Art by David Helton