“Franksgiving” – The First “Thanksgiving Versus Shopping” Controversy

The controversial decision by some stores to stay open on Thanksgiving is not the first time holiday shopping has caused a Thanksgiving brouhaha. In fact the one in 1939 was MUCH worse!

franksgiving

In late October of 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up one week, believing that doing so would help bolster retail sales during one of the final years of the Great Depression. This led to much upheaval and protest, causing some to facetiously rename the holiday Franksgiving.

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. In late October of 1939, President Roosevelt decided to deviate from this custom and declare November 23, the second-to-last Thursday, as Thanksgiving that year.

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.

A late 1939 Gallup poll indicated that Democrats favored the switch 52% to 48% while Republicans opposed it 79% to 21%, and that Americans overall opposed the change 62% to 38%.

FDR’s declaration was not binding on the states, and each state government could 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.

Unfortunately for Roosevelt, a 1941 Commerce Department survey concluded that the earlier date did nothing to increase sales. 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.

After three years of Thanksgiving chaos, Congress passed a law on November 26, 1941, designating the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day.

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8 thoughts on ““Franksgiving” – The First “Thanksgiving Versus Shopping” Controversy

  1. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

    How sad is it that our economy depends heavily on shopping at all. I do not go in stores from Nov. 15 to Jan. 7, and that’s because people turn into animals during that season. I would also add that I am Christian but do not celebrate Christmas. Very interesting bit of history that I did not know.

    • I don’t shop in stores during that period either and wouldn’t be caught dead in a store on Black Friday. I celebrate Christmas, but I try to make most of my gifts. Also I give lots of honey!! :)

  2. Dr. Rex says:

    Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    I think stores should be closed. Where are the “family values” that are spoken about so much!??
    Guess “commercialism” took over …..

  3. mieprowan says:

    These holidays seem so arbitrary in some ways but if you grow up with them they are bound to resonate. I always feel sorry for people who are working on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Where I live everything but the convenience stores/gas stations shuts down on Christmas. I’m not Christian but I still think that’s nice.

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