I hope everyone got enough to eat yesterday and refrained from waking up at 4:00 this morning for Black Friday. In a sense we have Franklin Roosevelt to thank/blame for turning the day after Thanksgiving into the retail orgy it has become. Since 1863, when Lincoln asked Americans to pause and give thanks for what they had during the difficult days of the Civil War, the country always marked Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November. Decades later, in the waning days of the Depression, leaders of the Retail Dry Goods Association convinced President Roosevelt that because Thanksgiving fell on November 30 the late date would dent their Christmas sales. And so in August of that year FDR announced that Thanksgiving would fall a week earlier, on the fourth Thursday of the month, November 23.
Thanksgiving at this time was not yet a legal holiday; state governors had the option of setting the date themselves, though by tradition they had usually rubber-stamped what presidents since Lincoln had done. That was not to be in 1939. Roughly half the state governors chose November 23, with the other half opting for the traditional. So the United State had two Thanksgiving that year, and again in 1940 and 1941 as well. Tellingly the most resistance came from New England, especially Massachusetts, where the holiday had originated in 1621. Bay Staters did not see the humor in messing with the traditional date. Roosevelt’s detractors called the president’s proclamation “Franksgiving.” The financial benefits of the earlier date were ambiguous, perhaps because of the confusion with the mulitple. The experiment came to an end three years later; facing so much backlash and resistance, FDR called off the dual celebrations. In a larger sense he–and the retailers–got their way however. Thanksgiving was permanently and legally moved to the fourth Thursday of the November, adding a few extra days to the holiday shopping season.
(image/USMC Archives from Quantico, USA, via Wikimedia Commons)