Happy Franksgiving: Why FDR Rescheduled Turkey Day

On Thanksgiving Day 1924, when Santa Claus showed up in Herald Square at the end of the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, an unwritten agreement was struck between retailers and consumers: Christmas would not come to the stores before Santa did. For years after that first parade, stores waited until the day after Thanksgiving, which was then the last Thursday of the month, to bring out their Christmas decorations, launch their Christmas ad campaigns and remind everyone incessantly that they had so much shopping do to before the big day.

Now it feels like the Christmas shopping season begins earlier and earlier every year, but the pact between stores and their customers used to be taken very seriously by both sides. In 1939, merchants already reeling from the Great Depression were worried that the late date of Thanksgiving that year (November 30th) and the shortened holiday shopping season would sink them. They didn't dare risk the public's anger by starting their Christmas sales or advertising early, though, so they appealed to the most powerful man in the free world.

In August of that year, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins of the looming disaster and presented a simple request for Hopkins' boss, President Franklin Roosevelt: bump Thanksgiving up by a week.

Shop Early

Roosevelt understood the retailers' concerns and agreed to move the holiday up to the second-to-last Thursday of the month, the 23rd, theoretically giving shoppers an extra week to spend more money and give the economy a much-needed boost. The move was not as sacrilegious as it might seem today. While presidents had customarily declared a day of thanksgiving be observed, Thanksgiving Day was not yet a federal holiday and the actual date had, historically, moved around a bit. It was only since Lincoln in 1863 that the last Thursday in November had become generally accepted as the date. Roosevelt apparently thought it was within his rights to move the holiday again if he felt the need.

The American public disagreed, and made their feelings known almost immediately after Roosevelt's announcement. Among the most notable complaints came from the board of selectmen of Plymouth, Massachusetts, the commonly accepted home of the first Thanksgiving. "Plymouth and Thanksgiving are almost synonymous," the chairman of the board said. "Merchants or no merchants, I can't see any reason for changing it."

The date change also disrupted the schedules of many college football teams, who traditionally ended their seasons with rivalry games on the holiday. Bill Walton, head football coach at the now-defunct Little Ouachita College threatened to “vote the Republican ticket if [Roosevelt] interferes with our football.”

The fuss was maybe bigger than it should have been. Since the day was not a federal holiday, Roosevelt's date switching really didn't mean much, and it was still up to the governors to decide when the holiday would be celebrated in their states. Traditionally, they'd simply follow the president's lead, but the public backlash made things a little more difficult. They had to divine their constituents' opinions, get a read on the state retail economy and decide if they wanted to cross the president or not.

Democrat Thanksgiving and Republican Thanksgiving

It turned out that things split pretty evenly down the middle and along party lines. While a Gallup poll showed that 59% of Americans disapproved of the date change, 22 states had decided to go along with Roosevelt's plan, 23 stuck with the old date and the remaining three decided to celebrate both days. In the press, November 30th was referred to as “Republican Thanksgiving” and the 23rd as “Democrat Thanksgiving” or, as Atlantic City Mayor Thomas Taggart dubbed it, “Franksgiving.”

Roosevelt declared an early second-to-last-Thursday Thanksgiving for the next two years, but soon had to face the facts. In 1941, the Wall Street Journal, armed with data from the 1939 and 1940 holiday shopping seasons, declared the move a bust that provided no real boost to retail sales. Roosevelt admitted his experiment had failed and, later that year, signed a joint Congressional resolution making Thanksgiving a federal holiday to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November (so depending on how many weeks are in November in a given year, Thanksgiving will fall on either the last Thursday or the second-to-last Thursday). They were cutting it a little too close, though. Calendars already showed the proclaimed early holiday the week before on the third Thursday, and people had started making plans based around that, so the legislation had to sit for a year and went into effect in 1942.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
iStock
iStock

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios