The Thanksgiving holiday is a cherished tradition for many Americans, but it was not always celebrated on the same date. In fact, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a controversial decision to move the holiday one week earlier than usual, hoping to boost the economy during the Great Depression. This decision sparked a nationwide debate and led to the creation of a new term: “Franksgiving.”
The Great Depression was a decade-long economic crisis that began in 1929 and affected millions of Americans. By the late 1930s, the U.S. was still struggling to recover from the effects of the depression, and the outbreak of World War II in Europe added more uncertainty and anxiety. Roosevelt, who had been elected for an unprecedented third term in 1936, was looking for ways to stimulate the economy and help the people.
One of the ideas that came to him was to change the date of Thanksgiving, which had been celebrated on the last Thursday of November since 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. Roosevelt believed that moving the holiday to the second to last Thursday of November would create more shopping days before Christmas and increase retail sales. He also thought that an earlier Thanksgiving would give people more time to travel and spend time with their families.
Roosevelt announced his decision in August 1939, giving the states and the public only a few months to adjust their plans. He issued a presidential proclamation declaring that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on November 23, 1939, instead of November 30. He also stated that he would do the same for the next two years, 1940 and 1941.
However, not everyone was happy with Roosevelt’s decision. Many people felt that he was meddling with a sacred tradition and disrespecting the legacy of Lincoln. Some also argued that the change would cause confusion and inconvenience for schools, businesses, and families. Some states decided to ignore Roosevelt’s proclamation and stick to the original date, while others followed his lead. This resulted in a split Thanksgiving, with some states celebrating on one date and others on another.
The change also affected the college football season, which usually ended with rivalry games on Thanksgiving. Many teams had already scheduled their games for November 30, and had to either reschedule them or play them for empty stadiums. Some fans were upset that they had to choose between watching football and celebrating Thanksgiving with their families.
The term “Franksgiving” was coined by Atlantic City mayor Charles D. White, who was a critic of Roosevelt’s decision. He used the term to mock the president and his supporters, and to express his preference for the traditional date. The term caught on and was widely used by the media and the public, especially by those who opposed the change.
Roosevelt’s experiment lasted for three years, until Congress intervened and passed a law in 1941 that fixed Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, which is sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes the second to last. The law was signed by Roosevelt on December 26, 1941, just weeks after the U.S. entered World War II. The law also made Thanksgiving a federal holiday, ensuring that all states would celebrate it on the same date.
Roosevelt’s decision to move Thanksgiving was a bold move that reflected the desperate times. It was a decision made in the hope of boosting the economy and lifting the spirits of a nation in the midst of a crisis. And while it may have caused some initial confusion and controversy, it ultimately became a part of the rich tapestry of American history.