"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."


Glenn Reynolds:

Barack Obama:
"Impossible to transcend."

Albert A. Gore, Jr.:
"An incontinent brute."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright:
"God damn the Gentleman Farmer."

Friends of GF's Sons:
"Is that really your dad?"

Kickball Girl:
"Keeping 'em alive until 7:45."

Hired Hand:
"I think . . . we forgot the pheasant."

I'm an
Alcoholic Yeti
in the
TTLB Ecosystem

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving, 1939

Imagine that your entire youth had coincided with tough economic times. My mother was born in 1926, and so her childhood spanned the Great Depression. It was only as a wife and mother in the 1950s that she reflected that what she had taken as normal was in fact a gross anomaly. Her mother took in wash and baked bread to sell, and her father worked at this and that when he could. An older brother was raised by grandparents. She had the ordinary recollections for a child of the Depression of going to school in patched dresses and shoes with cardboard insoles, and Christmases that came and went without presents. These stories she told not with unhappy resignation or bitterness, but with a sort of wonder that she'd not realized that they were poor. Everybody was poor!

But there was one holiday story she told with energy and amazement, and that involved the Thanksgiving of her 13th year, 1939. Because that was the year that Cousin Frank moved Thanksgiving Day.

You see my mother's family had been here pretty much from the beginning. They'd not come on the Mayflower to Massachusetts, mind you; pious noble refugees from religious oppression. Nor had they come with Father Franciso Lopez to St. Augustine, Florida. In fact, it's unclear when or how or why they got here. What we do know is that by 1670 her noble forebears were established in the Pine Barrens of what's now Southern New Jersey, huntin', fishin', bushwackin', and taking up with the local Indian girls. Later Europeans would decide that these particular Native Americans were the Lenape or Lenni Lenape, which is certainly what they called themselves. Of course, my remote grandfathers no doubt knew that "Lenape" simply means "the people" and "Lenni Lenape" means the "true people." What they knew was that the local True People produced some mighty cute girls. For which they no doubt gave thanks. But I digress.

My point is that because her family had been here pretty much from the beginning, she was related to damn near anybody who could trace their roots back to 1800. And so she was a remote cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Now Cousin Frank had been President her whole life. She was 6 in 1932, and 19 in 1945. He'd ALWAYS been President, surely he would always BE President. It was a matter of Divine Right or something. He was on our side against, well, you know; the bad guys. But even she drew the line when Cousin Frank decided to mess with Thanksgiving.

In 1863 President Lincoln had proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. Before that it had moved around a bit from year to year, but from that time on it was set. The problem in 1939 was that November had 5 Thursdays, the last being November 30, which left only 20 shopping days until Christmas. Always looking for some way to stimulate the economy, Roosevelt reasoned that adding an extra week for shopping would help. And since Thanksgiving had traditionally been declared by Presidential Proclamation -- rather than by statute -- he had the means at hand to move it. And so he did, back to November 23.

My 13-year-old mother was appalled. It was as if he'd declared Christmas to be December 20, or Armistice Day to be November 10. Even Cousin Frank couldn't mess with the calendar, for goodness sake. Much of the rest of the country followed her lead. It took on political aspects: November 30 was Republican Thanksgiving, while November 23 was Democrat Thanksgiving. (Can you say "Franksgiving?") Individual states had to decide which way to jump and, when the dust settled and Lincoln's "day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" rolled around, 23 states opted for the old date while 22 went with Cousin Frank.

This "experiment" continued until Thanksgiving of 1942, although Roosevelt had abandoned the idea in the Spring of 1941 (too late to fix it for that year, what with football schedules and such). It goes without saying that my mother's family, as she put it, "had Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving," and not the sad, pretend Thanksgiving announced by Cousin Frank. It was always clear that she found this defiance of The President to have been a bold and almost subversively brave act.

So settle in today for your traditional Thanksgiving meal, secure in the knowledge that even Cousin Frank didn't have the clout to mess with it.

What's that you say? You noticed that 23 states plus 22 states adds up to only 45 of the 48 states? Very observant, my children. Texas, Mississippi and Colorado decided to split the difference, and celebrated on BOTH days.

Comments on "Thanksgiving, 1939"


Anonymous The Old Timer said ... (8:47 AM) : 

Thanks for this bit of history. This will help the younger readers of G&L to understand the first 25 seconds of this clip from Bing Crosby's 1942 classic "Holiday Inn".



Blogger myron said ... (7:29 PM) : 

Your Aunt's fore bathers and Mothers, the Leni Lenape. were really the "Pure, Abiding with the pure."
The Pure means they were Christians. Their fore parents had been Chtistians when they left Greenland.
John White and Thomas Hariot documented that they were still Christians in 1585.
The historian who created the Maalam Aarum called the people the Leni Lenape. They called their fore fathers "Noosh." a morphing of "Norsk."


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