Remember ‘Franksgiving’?

Alabama Living Magazine

Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving when we do?

Illustration by Dennis Auth

Some say it is because the harvest is in and farmers can take a break to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

But the harvest comes in at different times in different places, so why do we all, farmer and non-farmer, country folk and city dwellers, celebrate when we do?

Well, like so many things that today we take for granted, for this you can thank the American genius for working things out— and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Here is the tale that was told to me.

It was 1939.  The Great Depression was still troubling the land.  The big retailers were hoping that the Christmas shopping season, the weeks between Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November, and the 25th of December, would boost the bottom line and get them out of the year with a profit.

Then someone noticed that November 1939, had five Thursdays. The last fell on Nov. 30, the last day of the month, cutting a week off the Christmas shopping season.

Big retailers were upset and they told the President so.

Now Thanksgiving had fallen on the last Thursday in November ever since President Lincoln declared it a day to give thanks for the Union victory at Gettysburg, which a generation of Southerners refused to do.  Since the date was set by Presidential Proclamation, instead of by Congress, it was not “official.”  

So, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, reasoned that he could change it, and he did.

Big retailers rejoiced.

But they were almost alone in their happiness.

Printers, who already had 1940 calendars printed and ready, protested.  So did people who had made holiday plans based on the other date.

Most upset of all were college football coaches who had scheduled traditional Thanksgiving games on what was no longer Thanksgiving. One coach reportedly announced that if it was not changed back, he would never vote for a Democrat again.  

Meanwhile polls showed that 62 percent of Americans opposed Roosevelt’s plan.

Republicans, sensing a political advantage to be had, took to calling it “Franksgiving.” 

Roosevelt waited out 1939 to see what would happen, but when retail sales did not increase significantly, he knew he was wasting a lot of political capital with little hope of any profit. 

Congress settled the matter. It passed a joint resolution declaring the fourth Thursday in November the official Thanksgiving, and the president signed it.  

That is why we celebrate Thanksgiving when we do.

Moral of the story: Politicians should not mess with something that people like.

End of lesson.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hhjackson43@gmail.com

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Award-winning Alabama Living is the official statewide publication of the electric cooperatives in Alabama and the largest magazine of its type in the state, reaching some 400,000 electric cooperative consumers.

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