Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Yes, you read that right: Franksgiving*. A term coined for an event first occurring exactly seventy seven years ago today, it represented the political contention over a presidential decision made in the throes of economic turmoil. With a turkey and a sprig of holly thrown in for good measure.
The year was 1939. At the time—as had been done ever since Abraham Lincoln had decreed it would be so in 1863—the day known as Thanksgiving had been celebrated on the last Thursday in November. In 1939, however, November had five Thursdays, not four, meaning the celebration itself would occur on the last possible day of the month.
Considering it poor form to haul out the Christmas decorations before the actual celebration of Thanksgiving, America's merchants—still somewhat subdued at what had not yet become known as the tail end of the Great Depression—were concerned over the impact this would have on the holiday shopping season. Foreseeing yet another year of lackluster sales, the manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association mentioned this concern to the United States Secretary of Commerce, who apparently passed along the message to the President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And then-President Roosevelt decided—less than a month before the traditional event—to issue a declaration to change the date to the next-to-last Thursday, instead.
Everyone got the memo, alright. But not everyone was happy with the change. In countless ways which could not have been foreseen—at least, not without those tedious government studies that take aeons to analyze—special interest groups weighed in on the dilemma. College football, for one, had regulations which backed them into a corner with the change. Democrat Roosevelt's political opponents wasted no time in registering their complaints. States and municipalities stewed over when to allow a day off for their employees—and in the end, nearly half went with the new date, while almost as many chose to remain with the traditional date, thus prompting some to call the later event "Republican Thanksgiving." Three states decided to celebrate both days.
The new date was kept for the next year's Thanksgiving as well, despite the contention, prompting then-mayor of Atlantic City Thomas D. Taggart's snarky portmanteau dubbing the day "Franksgiving." Eventually, a joint resolution was drawn up in Congress, designating the "fourth Thursday" in November—rather than the last Thursday—as Thanksgiving Day, and was signed into law by President Roosevelt on November 26, 1941.
Bottom line? After all the furor over that displaced day of peace, the Commerce Department's survey results in 1941 showed no significant uptick in sales for all the angst over amending cut-short holiday shopping seasons.
Above: Thomas Nast's portrait of Santa Claus published in Harper's Weekly in 1881; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
*Note: if it hadn't been for a footnote in Bill Griffeth's book, "Stranger in My Genes," I would never have known about the kerfuffle that became known as Franksgiving. One of the benefits of making a practice of reading books is such delightful rabbit-trail discoveries as this tidbit of American history.