By 1939, the Great Depression had ruled the American economy for a decade. At one point, a recession broke out in the middle of the depression. There was no end in sight for the economy. Retailers continued to struggle. They asked President Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving up a week to allow an extra week of shopping for Christmas. Roosevelt agreed and issued a proclamation pushing the date up a week. Despite the seemingly minor change, a firestorm erupted that lasted two years and it took an act of Congress to fix it.
In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November a day of Thanksgiving. Subsequent presidents followed Lincoln’s lead and issued Thanksgiving proclamations and set the date for the last Thursday in November. In 1939, the last Thursday in November landed on the 30th. Retailers balked and went to the president. They wanted an extra week for shoppers to maximize profits during the Great Depression. They wanted 31 shopping days for consumers as opposed to 24. Roosevelt felt their logic was sound and agreed. In 1939, Thanksgiving officially took place on November 23.
FDR’s declaration confused and angered people. Calendars were now incorrect. American schedules needed adjustment. Even the NFL was impacted. The Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers moved their game up a week to the 23rd to accommodate the change. Angrily, some argued the president caved to capitalist interests. Thanksgiving became “Franksgiving.” Half the country refused to honor the new date while two states honored both dates. In 1940, a similar situation ensued as Roosevelt once again pushed the date back a week and confusion reigned again.
In 1941, Congress stepped in and set the date for Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Roosevelt recognized the need to quell the controversy, recognized his mistake and surrendered to the inevitable. His usually astute political judgment did not foresee the firestorm over this simple change. The firestorm became a sideshow as the country struggled during the depression and uneasily watched the European war from afar.
In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt attempted to alleviate depression-era suffering by simply moving Thanksgiving up a week. The subsequent controversy, confusion, and opposition surprised the president. Rather than fight a losing battle over something as trivial as the date for Thanksgiving Day, Roosevelt signed a congressional resolution reestablishing Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of November.