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: