Thanksgiving feast suffers an annual attack by liberals who consider the holiday to be a “day of mourning. But a new book on the history of the day finds that it is not the first time that Thanksgiving has been criticized.
By Melanie Kirkpatrick Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience it was recently reissued for the 400th anniversary of Thanksgiving.
The book is an entertaining journey through the long and winding centuries of Thanksgiving, from Pilgrims to George Washington, Lincoln to Turkey. But conservatives will find Chapter 7 particularly interesting: It reminds readers of Franklin Roosevelt’s failed attempt to mess with the holidays.
Kirkpatrick explained how FDR moved Thanksgiving from the fourth Thursday in November to the third Thursday in November. His ill-conceived idea was explained to the press on August 14, 1939:
There were five Thursdays in November of that year, which means that Thanksgiving, if celebrated on the last Thursday, would fall on the 30th of the month. That left only twenty days of shopping until Christmas. Moving the holidays to Nov. 23 would allow shoppers more time to shop and, according to the president’s dubious theory, spend more money, giving the economy a boost.
Most Americans would have been happy to comply with the president’s encouragement to spend more, if they had the money. But it didn’t, and early Thanksgiving was just another example of the New Deal’s ill-thought-out campaign to lift the country out of the Depression by persuading people to spend their way to prosperity.
Spending your way to prosperity? Sounds familiar. The move was met with uproar from New Englanders, to colleges with soccer games already scheduled. Americans used to everything in 2021 turning political will see history repeat itself. Kirkpatrick wrote of the new Thanksgiving of 1939: “It wasn’t long before people started referring to November 30 as ‘Republican Thanksgiving’ and November 23 as ‘Republican Thanksgiving.’ Democratic Thanksgiving ‘or even’ Thanksgiving Day. ‘
Twenty-three states stuck with the original (or classic) date. Twenty-two went with Democratic Thanksgiving. If you liked large meals that year, you wanted to be in Texas, Mississippi, or Colorado. They celebrated both Thanksgiving days.
1936 Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon thundered that FDR was behaving like the worst dictator in the world at the time: According to Landon, FDR announced the change “to an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” Gallup found that only 38 percent of Americans supported the change and 62 opposed it.
Showing more devotion to New Coke than Coca-Cola, Roosevelt forced change in America for two more years before, finally, in May 1941, FDR admitted that the “experiment” had been a failure.
The Washington Post, let the Democrat relax, something the newspaper still does in 2021. One columnist wrote softly: “In 1942 and later, by grace of the presidential correction of the error, Thanksgiving will be on the previous date.”
Kirkpatrick, a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, has written an excellent book on the history of Thanksgiving. It’s a great read this Turkey Day or any other in the future. Request a copy here.