If you have been looking forward to celebrating your Seattle Thanksgiving this Thursday, you’re probably confident that on Friday you’ll be able to put all the Thanksgiving paraphernalia away until next year. If you have plates or cups festooned with Pilgrims, Indians, and turkeys, back they’ll go into the cupboard until 2017—because Thanksgiving comes but once a year.
True—except for that one year. That was the time when there were two Thanksgivings.
If you haven’t heard this story, gather ‘round:
The year was 1939. On November 23, President Roosevelt ceremoniously carved a turkey, then took to the airwaves to wish his fellow citizens a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. The problem was, in many states across the country, radios were probably being clicked off because, for them, Thanksgiving wasn’t going to happen until a week later. If any turkeys had been aware of the situation, the lingering threat would have been more alarming than usual.
The anarchy had been years in the making. Presidents have the power to decree when the national day of thankfulness is celebrated. Ever since Honest Abe Lincoln had proclaimed it a national holiday, the last Thursday had been “it.” When Roosevelt began his presidency in 1933, he had come under pressure from business interests to move Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday—but he’d had resisted all attempts to overcome tradition.
But in 1939, the calendar again showed a five-Thursday November. The reason business hated such years was because they had to wait until December to launch their Christmas sales. After all, Americans didn’t even think about the holidays until they’d shaken off their calorie-induced Turkey Day stupors—everyone knew that!
With the Great Depression still digging the economy an ever-deeper pit, The Chief reluctantly gave in. Early in 1939, FDR proclaimed that the fourth Thursday, November 23rd, was to going to be Thanksgiving.
No big deal, you might think. Wrong! Whenever any tradition is upended, some people are bound to get upset. Not to mention the calendar publishers, who reportedly had to scrap all the calendars they had printed in advance. School holiday schedules had to be redrawn; annual Thanksgiving football game dates changed—in short, in addition to the whipped cream on their pumpkin pies, states who went along with FDR had an extra dollop of chaos.
I haven’t been able to determine whether Washington was one of the states that refused to budge, but 23 of them crossed their legislative arms and issued their own counter-proclamations. And sure enough, lots of people put off the carving until the last day in November. Oh—wait! This just in: Colorado and Texas celebrated both!
In today’s more practical America, we have prevented two Thanksgivings from ever troubling us again by starting Christmas sales right after Halloween. I don’t know about your household, but in ours, one Seattle Thanksgiving is both welcome and sufficient. Here is hoping your holiday finds everyone healthy and properly thankful for the blessings we pause to remember. Happy Thanksgiving (but one to a customer, please)!