Measured Against Reality

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Year There Were Two Thanksgivings

Ever since Abraham Lincoln had declared it a holiday, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November. In 1939, that meant the holiday would fall on November 30th.

Or so everyone thought. In August, President Roosevelt announced that Thanksgiving would actually be on the 23rd, one week earlier. His rationale for the move was that the economy, still recovering from the Depression, needed a boost from the holiday shopping season (apparently they had black Friday during the Depression), and 24 days just wasn’t enough time.

As would be expected with such a move, many people were angered. Football fans complained that rivalry games were now on the wrong day. Calendars were now wrong (except for one fortunate company who accidentally scheduled Thanksgiving for the 23rd).

Some of the reactions included saying that the President should “have Sunday changed to Wednesday” or “require everyone to take Friday and Saturday off”. As would be expected with such a bizarre move, the satirists had a field day. Some cartoonists suggested FDR would next make a new month called “Franklinary”, or even run for an unprecedented third term (they got the latter right).

When Thanksgiving rolled around, 23 states celebrated it on the 23rd, 23 others on the 30th, and the remaining two celebrated both. In a move reminiscent of brothers fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War, FDR’s own children celebrated on different days.

The next year Congress passed a law saying that Thanksgiving would fall on the fourth Thursday of November, and it was signed on December 20th, 1941, two weeks after Pearl Harbor. By then there were vastly more important events in the world, and the year of two Thanksgivings quickly faded from memory.

(Via The History Channel Magazine, A Turkey of a Decision by Rick Beyer.)

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