Early colonists celebrated their good fortune of bountiful harvest at the end of the growing and reaping season. It became a festive and religious occasion. Legislators of many states established a day for giving of thanks in following years but the dates were not uniform and it wasn’t celebrated to the same degree.
In 1863 President Abe Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as a new national holiday. At first southerners looked upon it as a Yankee holiday as it was established at the height of the Civil War. By design the southerners demonstrated their dissension by celebrating Thanksgiving on other dates. Churches too celebrated Thanksgiving on different dates though they slowly changed to a common date as years past.
Thanksgiving saved many Kentucky legislators from death or injury in 1897 when the ceiling and fresca of the Statehouse in Frankfort collapsed. It was the day before Thanksgiving and the legislators had adjourned for the holiday. It led Gov. William O’Connell Bradley, state senators and representatives to look upon it as a true day of Thanksgiving that year and for many more.
“Forty years ago no one thought of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and other denominations coming together to give thanks for blessings of the year,” the Lexington Herald (KY) stated that year. “It’s something to behold!”
By the 1920’s most families attended church services on Thanksgiving before returning to their homes and enjoying a sumptuous dinner. It had become truly a holy and religious Thanksgiving Day.
The nation was well on her way out of the Great Depression in 1939 when the National Drygoods Association persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to change the day of the celebration from November 30 to November 23. The association of merchants determined it would give a further boost to the economy by providing an added week to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This caused somewhat of a furor.
There was more involved than met the eye. Calendars, ledgers, diaries and other date books were already printed with the wrong Thanksgiving date. Football games and other important dates would have to be scheduled way in advance. The initial result was games being played on work days in front of much smaller crowds. It led to financial losses for colleges and promoters of these events. Some suggested that President Roosevelt be billed for their shortcomings.
Many ministers suggested that the government should not tamper with a holy day and Norman Vincent Peale, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, fretted that might Christmas Day be moved to May 1. God forbid!
Republicans complained it was a political move and it should remain Thanksgiving Day and not Thank Roosevelt Day. Democrats were mixed in their support or non-support.
Initially the federal government observed November 23 as the official holiday but allowed federal workers to observe November 30 if they chose but they would not be paid for the day off. Could this have been the origin of the term “skeleton crew.” Oh well! Interstate airliners and trains served turkey dinners on both dates.
The situation in our area affected very little although neighboring states often observed different dates. Kentucky observed November 23 as Turkey Day and just a little to the south Tennessee observed November 30.
Altogether 22 states observed November 23 as Thanksgiving while 23 states kept November 30 as the festive date. Texas, Mississippi and Colorado lawmakers voted to observe both dates.
A Thanksgiving pageant was held at Plymouth, Mass., on November 30, 1939, with the governors of 46 states providing for the celebration. They said their action was “to save the special day from exploitation and desecration.”
Thanksgiving in 1940 was as confusing as it was the previous year and it was no surprise when President Roosevelt announced on May 20, 1941 that Thanksgiving Day would be returned to the traditional date of the fourth Thursday in November. Congress passed a law soon thereafter legislating the timing of the holiday.
Ten days after Thanksgiving of that very year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It would be 1945 before we celebrated another official Thanksgiving. That was the most festive and thankful Thanksgiving we had heretofore and clearly entrenched the fall holiday as one of our most revered.
Thanksgiving has changed for many Americans to a day of football, parades and a signal of Christmas ahead. It continues to be a true time of thanks for many.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers. I pray that each of you will have a safe, joyful, holy and thankful Thanksgiving. Copyright 2018 Jadon Gibson
Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN., who writes “this story also suffices as my “A Voice for God – A Voice for Good column.”