For a long time, my husband wasn’t aware that Thanksgiving always fell on the fourth (I had to change this — for reasons I’ll explain below) Thursday in November by some predetermined arrangement between the pilgrims and the native people. Apparently, he was under the impression that Thanksgiving was always November 24th, and that date always magically fell on a Thursday. Really, who knows what he thought? He has a fine brain, and maybe the reason he can consistently remember the temperature at which water boils and whether a centimeter is bigger or smaller than an inch, and by how much (same goes for kilometers and miles and liters and ounces) is because it isn’t full of competing information, like this fact about Thanksgiving that I’m guessing every single person reading this knows, unless you’re European, which is fine, because you probably know a lot of stuff we Americans don’t know.
It turns out, however, that his confusion over the actual date on which Thanksgiving can be expected to fall isn’t as weird as it sounds and, in fact, has some historical basis. Thinking that this blog so seldom discusses history, I thought it was high time to demonstrate that I’m actually aware that things happened in the past, and there is some record of them AND they’re actually of some relevance and interest to those of us who live in the here and now. (This is known as history. It is a knowledge seldom put to any use here in the United States because we prefer to go on repeating our mistakes.)
So, here’s the thing: for a very long time, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November. I mean, who knows when the pilgrims celebrated it, but whenever we got organized as a country and figured out that we should all celebrate the same things at the same time because it was good for us a nation (around about Grover Cleveland’s time, is my guess), well the last Thursday in November it was. Until Franklin Roosevelt, that well-known disrespecter of Tradition and Already Printed Up Calendars, and Previously Organized Football Games, got involved. And so it was that, in 1939, Roosevelt decided that Thanksgiving should be on the THIRD Thursday in November. Did he do this out of mere whim? Was it something he dreamed up because he didn’t like to have to wait for the big bird? Well, no. He did it so there would be more time to shop for Christmas. I swear, that is the absolute truth and I give you this website as my evidence of that historical fact.
What I love about that link, which you really must go check out, is that it reproduces the letters written to Roosevelt and his staff by American citizens who were totally outraged by the shifting of the holiday. There are several notable things about letters written to the president in 1939. First of all, people are super polite. They might think Roosevelt’s a total a-hole for doing this to them and screwing up, as the manufacturer of calendars pointed out, the ENTIRE YEAR’S CALENDAR PRODUCTION SCHEDULE, but they say it with restraint and dignity. Another thing I noticed is that that guy from NYU who was used to his college football team playing on Thanksgiving Day and had apparently reserved Yankee Stadium for the next five years on the last Thursday in November to do that, actually thought he could change Roosevelt’s mind because it was kind of inconvenient for NYU to have to play their football game on a day when no one would be eating turkey.
One thing that has not changed is that, in America, if you don’t like something, you accuse the person who’s doing it of being a communist, (or “communistic” as one person called Roosevelt). Even if he’s making the change so we’ll buy more stuff we don’t need, an idea that, last time I looked, was more a capitalist than communist notion, you still want to be sure to accuse him of being a commie. And, finally, I would simply like to say that the guy who wrote Roosevelt to say that he was really happy about the change, and then asked Roosevelt if maybe he could talk to god and have it be declared ungodly to work on Tuesdays, well, I love that guy.
Happy Thanksgiving Weekend and I’m so sorry that tomorrow is Monday and not Sunday. But if we all write Obama and ask if maybe he can work it out so that the Monday after Thanksgiving remains a Sunday, well, then our votes will not have been in vain.
PS: I’d just like to add that yes, I reported in an earlier version of this post that Thanksgiving falls on the third Thursday in November, which it doesn’t, despite Franklin’s (and my) best efforts. (Thanks for pointing that out, sharp eyed blog reader!) But my sad lack of specific information on this subject is nothing compared to that of my children. This morning, when I asked them what day Thanksgiving falls on, one child said, “The day before Black Friday.” Okay, it’s true that one of them said it falls on the fourth Thursday (NO, I said, it can’t!! FDR changed that.) Well, apparently they changed it back, something I didn’t even notice in my total excitement to be actually posting something in my blog.