1939: The Fourth or the Last Thursday?

Up until 1939, Thanksgiving was on the last Thursday of November. When November has 5 Thursdays, like it does this year, it bugs retailers who think that they’ll get fewer shopping days.

In 1939, FDR caved to pressure from those business interests and declared the fourth Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving. When he gave his presidential proclamation that year from the Little White House in Georgia, few celebrated with him. Most Americans were pretty peeved that he was messing with tradition like that. Just for the record, here’s what he did say back in the day:

I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Thursday, the twenty-third of November 1939, as a day of general thanksgiving.

More than three centuries ago, at the season of the gathering in of the harvest, the Pilgrims humbly paused in their work and gave thanks to God for the preservation of their community and for the abundant yield of the soil. A century and a half later, after the new Nation had been formed, and the charter of government, the Constitution of the Republic, had received the assent of the States, President Washington and his successors invited the people of the Nation to lay down their tasks one day in the year and give thanks for the blessings that had been granted them by Divine Providence. It is fitting that we should continue this hallowed custom and select a day in 1939 to be dedicated to reverent thoughts of thanksgiving.

Our Nation has gone steadily forward in the application of democratic processes to economic and social problems. We have faced the specters of business depression, of unemployment, and of widespread agricultural distress, and our positive efforts to alleviate these conditions have met with heartening results. We have also been permitted to see the fruition of measures which we have undertaken in the realms of health, social welfare, and the conservation of resources. As a Nation we are deeply grateful that in a world of turmoil we are at peace with all countries, and we especially rejoice in the strengthened bonds of our friendship with the other peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

Let us, on the day set aside for this purpose, give thanks to the Ruler of the Universe for the strength which He has vouchsafed us to carry our daily labors and for the hope that lives within us of the coming of a day when peace and the productive activities of peace shall reign on every continent.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty-fourth.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

Now I wonder what he ate on that day? His favorites were scrambled eggs, fish chowder, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, and fruitcake — foods he could “dig into.”

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