How FDR tried, and failed, to change a national holiday.
by Melanie Kirkpatrick
Last I checked, Thanksgiving is still scheduled to take place tomorrow. The economic news may be gloomy, but unlike President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, President Barack Obama has not tinkered with the date of the holiday.
In 1939, FDR decided to move Thanksgiving Day forward by a week. Rather than take place on its traditional date, the last Thursday of November, he decreed that the annual holiday would instead be celebrated a week earlier.
The reason was economic. There were five Thursdays in November that year, which meant that Thanksgiving would fall on the 30th. That left just 20 shopping days till Christmas. By moving the holiday up a week to Nov. 23, the president hoped to give the economy a lift by allowing shoppers more time to make their purchases and—so his theory went—spend more money.
Roosevelt made his decision in part on advice from Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins, who was in turn influenced by Lew Hahn, general manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association. Hahn had warned Hopkins that the late Thanksgiving, Nov. 30, might have an "adverse effect" on the sale of "holiday goods."
In an informal news conference in August announcing his decision, FDR offered a little tutorial on the history of the holiday. Thanksgiving was not a national holiday, he noted, meaning that it was not set by federal law. According to custom, it was up to the president to pick the date every year.
It was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln ordered Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November, that that date became generally accepted, Roosevelt explained. To make sure that reporters got his point, he added that there was nothing sacred about the date.
Nothing sacred? Roosevelt might as well have commanded that roast beef henceforth would replace turkey as the star of the holiday meal, or that cranberries would be banned from the Thanksgiving table. The president badly misread public opinion. His announcement was front-page news the next day, and the public outcry was swift and loud... Read the whole article.
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- Fr. Christopher George Phillips
- Fr. Phillips is the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, the first Anglican Use parish, established on August 15, 1983. Not that there is any confusion, but he is on the left, shown in his younger, less gray-headed days.