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This Day in History: FDR and the celebration of “Franksgiving”

During this month in 1941, Thanksgiving is celebrated on two different dates. The federal government and some states celebrated the holiday on November 20. Meanwhile, at least sixteen states celebrated Thanksgiving a week later.


What? Why was the country so split on when to celebrate a national holiday?


The controversy was created by FDR and one of his attempts to help the country out of the Great Depression. Do you know about the years that Americans celebrated Franksgiving?

A screenshot from the movie “Holiday Inn,” released in 1942. A scene from the movie spoofs the confusion about the holiday, with a turkey hopping back and forth between the 3rd and 4th Thursday of November. The turkey finally gives up and shrugs.

Problems began in 1939 when Thanksgiving was scheduled to land on November 30. The country had been used to celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in the month, but many businesses became upset about that late date. They wanted an extra week of Christmas shopping.


Remember, this was back in the day when retailers actually waited until after Thanksgiving to begin putting Christmas items on shelves. Hmm. Forget the modern mentality that has most of us already looking at Christmas lights on houses and Christmas decorations in the grocery store?!


In 1939, the late Thanksgiving date was a disaster for companies already struggling in difficult times. A coalition of retailers asked FDR to move Thanksgiving up by a week, and FDR complied.


Technically, FDR’s decision affected only federal employees, but the move caused a fair amount of outrage. Former presidential candidate Alf Landon fumed at the temerity of FDR’s unilateral action: “If the change has any merit at all,” he noted, “more time should have been taken in working it out . . . instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.”


Another politician similarly seethed that the holiday was “not for revelry and sport, nor the inauguration of Christmas shopping.” Polls showed that most Americans agreed with these sentiments.


Practically speaking, the move also caused a fair amount of confusion. Calendar makers were stuck with useless inventory. Football schedules were messed up. Turkey farms were worried about having to sell premature turkeys. In the end, some states went along with the move, while others did not. Many schools refused to adjust their schedules. And yet FDR persisted—at least until the spring of 1941, when he indicated that he would move the holiday back.


Did you notice the part where states felt free to make their own decisions? What a change from today’s modern mindset.


In any event, it seems that Congress didn’t really believe that FDR would stick with his decision. By October, the House had approved a resolution designating the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving. Later, the Senate amended it, changing the “last Thursday” to the “4th Thursday” of November. FDR signed the bill on December 26, 1941.


And THAT was the end of Franksgiving!


Primary Sources:

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