This Thursday is Thanksgiving, the kick-off of the holiday season.
But for a few years, it was known as Franksgiving – when a well-intentioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to change the holiday date – and inadvertently set off a ball of confusion.
From the beginning, the actual date of Thanksgiving varied a lot in the early days of America – and wasn’t necessarily celebrated every year. It took a formal proclamation from the first presidents to make a Thanksgiving happen. Finally, in 1863, right in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued his own proclamation – that Thanksgiving would occur on the final Thursday of November on an annual basis.
And so it was…until 1939. That year, Thanksgiving fell very late in the month – November 30th, to be exact. So retailers put pressure on FDR to move Thanksgiving up a week – because then, as now, Thanksgiving was the signal to start Christmas shopping and merchants did not want to see a shorter buying season.
FDR complied and named the second-to-last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving that year. The opposition party, the Republicans, yelled loudly at this break of the 76 year-old tradition, and FDR was actually compared to Hitler for forcing this change on the country. Overall, Americans opposed the plan 62% to 38% as it raised havoc with football schedules and holiday travel plans – as the change in the date was done in late October.
That year, Thanksgiving turned out to be a real turkey, with chaos ensuing over the date. In 1939, 23 states accepted the new date, 22 states stuck with the old and 3 states actually celebrated on both days. 1940 and 1941 saw more arguments and more state splits over the actual date of Thanksgiving – until FDR finally reached a compromise with Congress and set the holiday on the fourth Thursday of November, the date which still stands today.
So let’s give thanks that we actually all agree on which day we celebrate Thanksgiving. And, by the way, studies have shown that extending the length of the shopping season doesn’t actually make people spend more on presents.