The Practical Historian Takes the Day Off

NOTE: I generally post on Thursdays, but have decided this week to post a little early so that I can spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, the way it was meant to be spent. Last year, I wrote about my absolute disgust that retailers were open for Black Friday sales on the Thursday of Thanksgiving, which meant that their employees were not able to spend the holiday at home with their families. Apparently, the retailers didn’t get my message as an even greater number of them are engaged in the practice this year. So, I’m going to try again, with this (slightly) revised post. I hope that you enjoy it and I welcome your comments, but please note that I will not be responding until Friday. This practical historian is taking the day off.

English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for ...
Mmmm…smells like Thanksgiving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some Sincere and Honest Suggestions

Happy National Day of Thanksgiving on this the fourth Thursday of November when we here in the United States traditionally feel particularly thankful. But that wasn’t always when we celebrated as a nation. For much of our history, Thanksgiving was sporadically celebrated, with governors occasionally calling for state wide days of thankfulness.

It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln that we had a national celebration. In 1863 as a gesture of unity for a nation at the height of civil war, Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation declaring the last Thursday of November the official day. Not surprisingly, the holiday was still not uniformly celebrated until 1870, when the war was finally over and Reconstruction was well under way.

After that, every year, part of the president’s responsibility was to declare the official day. And for many years that worked well, with each president following in Lincoln’s footsteps and proclaiming Thanksgiving to be on the last Thursday in November.

Then along came The Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt. Listening to the appeals of concerned retailers who feared a late Thanksgiving would result in more sluggish Christmas sales, FDR decided to change Thanksgiving to Thursday, November 23, 1939.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933. Lietuvių: Fra...
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man who hated Thanksgiving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What FDR hadn’t counted on, however, was the wrath of a nation determined to celebrate thankfulness on the traditional day. Though larger retailers were grateful for the change, smaller merchants, calendar makers, sports teams, and schools with already set schedules were just plain upset. Angry letters streamed into the White House from concerned citizens like Shelby O. Bennett of Shinnston, West Virginia who wrote the president with a few “sincere and honest suggestions” of other changes he might make including:

1. Have Sunday changed to Wednesday;

2. Have Monday’s to be Christmas;

3. Have it strictly against the Will of God to work on Tuesday;

4. Have Thursday to be Pay Day with time and one-half for overtime;

5. Require everyone to take Friday and Saturday off for a fishing trip down the Potomac.

Despite the outcry, FDR continued to ask the nation to celebrate Thanksgiving one week early and in December of 1941, Congress passed a law naming the fourth Thursday in November the official National Day of Thanksgiving. So at long last Americans were guaranteed more than 24 shopping days leading up to Christmas and as public anger faded, everyone was happy.

Then came Thanksgiving 2013 when, concerned about sluggish sales and with only a measly 27 days of Christmas shopping left to the American public, large retailers took it upon themselves to cancel the holiday altogether, declaring instead that “Black Friday” would begin on Thursday, November 28.

The First Thanksgiving, painting by Jean Louis...
A painting depicting Native Americans and early European settlers camped outside the Best Buy to get a great deal on an 84-inch flat screen.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In response, I have drafted a letter of my own:

Dear Retailers,

Though some may feel a little put off by your tenacity, personally I think it’s a great idea to begin your holiday sales extravaganza a little early this year. In fact, I have some suggestions for other changes you might consider as well.

  1. To get people excited for the holidays, start piping Christmas music into your stores in the last half of April.
  2. Offer free holiday gift wrapping for purchases of $50 and above after July 4th.
  3. Promote T.G.I.F. doorbuster deals beginning at 4 AM every Thursday all year long.
  4. In the month of October replace the traditional zombie, superhero, and princess Halloween costumes available in your stores with Santa suits, reindeer antlers, and elf tights.
  5. Open bright and early on Christmas morning to accommodate the returns and exchanges from those customers whose families open just one present on Christmas Eve.

Hoping that as I sit at home in my pajamas watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my family, enjoying the aroma of a roasting turkey, and dreading the moment when I will finally have to start thinking about my holiday shopping, you will consider these sincere and honest suggestions, I remain,

Yours very truly,

Sarah Angleton

Check out Shelby O. Bennett’s letter to FDR here:

http://docs.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/thanksg.html#doc

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14 thoughts on “The Practical Historian Takes the Day Off

  1. Awesome post, Sarah — thanks for joining the cause! You are very witty, and I look forward to reading some of your other posts. Now I’ve got to link this to our Facebook page, where we hope you’ll get some new visitors!

  2. Brieuse Bernhard Piers-Gûdmönd

    We don’t have American Thanksgiving here in New Zealand of course, but we have a similar thing to your blog happen on ANZAC Day when we remember the various war fallen. Shops can’t open in the mornings, but the plant/gardening shops open because they say people will want to garden. Tourist shops can be open, so every shop starts selling souvenirs. Having said all that:
    Hope you had a wonderful family Thanksgiving!

  3. Thanks for the history lesson, too. 🙂 I think really for TGIF sales, they should start Wednesday at 4:00 am. So, because stores are opening on Thursday instead of Friday, are people still rushing the doors and lining up on T-day instead?

  4. Wow we haven’t even met and we will be spending Thanksgiving together–sitting in our jamas watching the parade, smells wafting from the kitchen. I’ll be sipping a little bottle of coke..you? And after Thanksgiving I’ll be supporting small businesses and the stores that remained closed on our National Holiday during the holiday season. Like you, I refuse to support greed and panic. Wonderful post. I will share in on the Facebook page—Nice to meet you and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
    https://www.facebook.com/thanksgivingistherealdeal

  5. More stores are to be open on the holidays. Can we not have two days, Thanksgiving and Christmas, where people can spend time with family and be thankful for what they have? I believe in keeping some of our traditions and care about the people who will be forced to work that day, instead of being with their family. Being open on Thanksgiving or Christmas is about greed, nothing more and nothing less. The Corporations that are open are looking to make a buck and the people who shop on those days want to save a buck. The sad truth is the corporations made a buck and the people saved a buck when the stores were closed on the holiday and opened the next day. The reason the corporations are open is because there are some people who are selfish and are only thinking about the “great” deal they are going to get, forgetting about the reason for the season. These people, along with the Corporatists do not think about the employees who have to work those days and be apart from their family. What is going to happen when the companies these people work for decide to be open in coming years and the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas become just another work day? Will they even be in the mood to shop? It is up to the people to refuse to shop on Thanksgiving or Christmas at these stores to send a message to the corporations that we should keep some traditions. If the stores are open and no customers show up, what would the corporations do in the future? I would say they would be closed. There is no need for these stores to be open, because the people will come the next day like they always have and they will be able to get that great deal and the companies will still make money. Again, let’s remember the reason for the season.

    1. I pretty much agree with you. And I have heard that numbers from last year when some retailers started opening for Thanksgiving Day sales show little difference in overall sales for the season. Hopefully this is a trend that will die down quickly.

  6. jean

    hi, sarah. i don’t often reply due to being busy, but i’ m waiting for an oil change, so thought i’d actually send you my thoughts. i agree with everything you’ve said, but a little part of me wonders if there aren’t those who are thankful to have a job and extra holiday pay. that thought doesn’t negate anything you and others have said, but i think this is not a clearly black or white issue. —jean

    1. That’s a good point, Jean. I guess I just think it’s good for the psyche to have a day when we all stop and take a breath. Of course, gas stations and grocery stores (at least for a few hours) have always been open. Also usually it’s a very big night for movie theaters because after a long day of togetherness, folks are often looking for something to do, still together, but maybe in an environment where they won’t drive each other crazy. Families with members who have to work the holiday, or part of the holiday, can and do make other arrangements to celebrate. I know we’ve been in that situation many times. I do have a hard time, though, with the idea of the stampeding rush for a good deal on electronics or whatever on a day when we are traditionally meant to be thankful for the many many blessings we already have.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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