I just finished an article for Etsy all about the legacy of canned cranberry sauce (you can read it here.) While I was browsing around for historical Thanksgiving themed items, I found the wonderful piece of ephemera pictures above.
Take a close look at it. What the hell is going on here? “No matter which you pick…” Why are their two Thanksgivings?
The Etsy shop’s owner dates this piece to 1939, and it was produced by the Jack Sprat grocery store in Wykoff, Minnesota. This is slightly off topic, but the Wykoff family is one of the oldest in America. A Dutch family that settled in Brooklyn–then Breuckelen–their 1652 family home is a museum, and it the oldest residence in New York City.
Back to the Thanksgiving–a quick Googling of Thanksgiving 1939 gives us the answer. Stay with me, this gets complicated.
Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863; he traditionally celebrated the holiday on the last Thursday in November, as did most Americans, although there was no official Thanksgiving day. November 1939 had five Thursdays–as does November 2012. Retailers in 1939 had a fit, because that meant the Christmas shopping season, which traditionally started the day after Thanksgiving, was shortened by nearly a week. It’s the middle of the Great Depression, and the hope is that Christmas shopping will help restart the economy. The retailers protest to President Franklin Roosevelt, and Roosevelt decides to declare Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of the month, not the last.
The American people FREAK. Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, is invested with tradition (much of it highly fictionalized). People felt that messing with the day to celebrate Thanksgiving was as bad as taking the turkey off the table. The Thanksgiving on November 23rd was dubbed “Franksgiving” in Roosevelt’s honor, and many people protested by celebrating on the traditional day, November 30th. Some families had double Thanksgiving.
Eventually, we got over it, and to this day we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of the month, NOT the last. But the end of the story is that it doesn’t freaking matter, because nowadays the Christmas shopping season starts on August 1st.