We always thought Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November. Didn’t President Lincoln proclaim it?
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
This year there are five Thursdays in November, the last on the 29th. WTF?
In August 1939, Lew Hahn, general manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association, warned Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins that the late calendar date of Thanksgiving that year (November 30) could possibly have an adverse effect on retail sales. At the time, it was considered bad form for retailers to display Christmas decorations or have “Christmas” sales before the celebration of Thanksgiving.
In keeping with a custom begun by Lincoln in 1863, U.S. Presidents had declared a general day of thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday in November. By late October of that year, President Roosevelt decided to deviate from this custom and declare November 23, the second-to-last Thursday, as Thanksgiving that year.
The plan encountered immediate opposition. Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s Republican challenger in the preceding election, called the declaration “another illustration of the confusion which [Roosevelt’s] impulsiveness has caused so frequently during his administration. If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken working it out… instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” While not all critics were political opponents of the president, most parts of New England (then a Republican stronghold relative to the rest of the nation) were among the most vocal areas. James Frasier, the chairman of the selectmen of Plymouth, Massachusetts (the commonly alleged location of the first Thanksgiving holiday) “heartily disapproved”.
The short-notice change in dates affected the holiday plans of millions of Americans. For example, many college football teams routinely ended their seasons with rivalry games on Thanksgiving, and had scheduled them that year for the last day in November; some athletic conferences had rules permitting games only through the Saturday following Thanksgiving. If the date were changed, many of these teams would play their games for empty stadiums or not at all. The change also caused problems for college registrars, schedulers, and calendar makers…
After announcing August 31, 1939, that he would similarly designate November 21, 1940 (the next year), Roosevelt issued on October 31 his official proclamation calling for “a day of general thanksgiving” on November 23. Such declarations amount to using the “moral authority” of the Presidency, and each state government can independently determine when to cancel work for state (and in some cases, municipal) employees. Twenty-three states’ governments and the District of Columbia recognized the non-traditional date, twenty-two states preserved the traditional date on November 30, and the remaining three – Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas – gave holidays in both weeks.
In 1940, 32 states’ governments and the District of Columbia observed the earlier date on November 21, while 16 states chose what some were calling the “Republican” Thanksgiving on the 28th.
On May 20, 1941, a Commerce Department survey found no significant expansion of retail sales due to the change. November of that year once again saw 32 states and the District of Columbia observing the holiday on the 20th, while the remaining 16 states did so on the 27th…
That new approach was embodied in a joint resolution of Congress, signed into law by President Roosevelt on November 26, 1941, and designating the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day. (Prior to that in the 20th century, the phrase “Thanksgiving Day” had been used in the prose of the presidential proclamation only in Calvin Coolidge‘s first, among his six.) In November 1942, Roosevelt’s proclamation made mention of the joint resolution, and of the date it established as Thanksgiving Day, and called for observation “in prayer” of both it and the New Year’s Day to follow.
The majority of states immediately changed their laws to coincide with the nationally observed date. The first year following the joint resolution with five Thursdays in November was 1944, and Thanksgiving was observed on the 23rd of the month with exception of the States of Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. (The nation was in the midst of World War II, and most nationwide celebrations as well as many regional ones were on hiatus at the time. It would not be until after the end of the war, 1945, that the new date of Thanksgiving would take full root.) Also in 1945, 1950, 1951, and 1956, November had five Thursdays. Texas was the last state to change its law, observing the last-Thursday Thanksgiving for the final time in 1956.
Let’s be thankful the country is, at least, now united on the date of Thanksgiving!