Santa Claus: A Fat, Jolly Kleptomaniac with a Raging Coke Addiction

In 1931, Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom was approached by the Coca-Cola Company to reinvent the image of Santa Claus. The artist had a lot to work with. The legend which had begun with the generosity of a 4th-century bishop was Americanized by Washington Irving in 1809.

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Coke and Santa Claus, forever linked by the efforts of Haddon Sundblom. That’s effective advertising.

In 1823, thanks to the poetry of Clement Moore (maybe), he became a jolly elfish figure with magical flying reindeer.  During the American Civil War, artist Thomas Nash gave St. Nicholas his more familiar name. Santa Claus became an enthusiastic Union supporter dressed in fur from head to toe.

American artists Rockwell, Wyeth, and Leyendecker captured the essence of Santa Claus in the early 20th-century. The jolly fat man received a fur-trimmed stocking cap, wide black belt, black boots, and a large bag of toys. This is also when red and white became his undisputed favorite colors.

By the time Sundblom got hold of him, Santa already resembled a Coke can in the American imagination. But Santa was still elfish, stern, and a little bit too much like a random fat guy in a funny suit. Evidently, that didn’t make people want to run out and drink Coca-Cola.

Sundblom solved the problem by recruiting his neighbor, a fat, jolly salesman, to model for him. The result was a magical looking image of a warm and friendly man people the world over began to identify with. For thirty years, Sundblom breathed life into his Santa. He played with toys, relaxed by the fire, and pilfered the Christmas feast from the refrigerator.

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A jolly Sanata demonstrating for an innocent child that it’s perfectly okay to snag a drink from someone else’s fridge without asking permission. By User:Husky [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
All this he did with a warm smile and a bottle of Coke. The images captured the imagination of the world, even in nations where “Santa” was more often portrayed as a wiry bishop. The rumor spread that Sundblom and Coca-Cola invented the iconic red and white suit of the American Santa Claus.

But it isn’t exactly true. What they did was standardize Santa as a fat kleptomaniac with a friendly face and a raging Coke addiction. And Christmas has been all the jollier ever since.  

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Creeptastic. Seriously. photo credit: Elf on a Shelf Playing with Knives via photopin (license)

 

My kiddos have outgrown their Santa years, and thankfully we never got into that creeptastic Elf on a Shelf thing. But they appreciate the magic of the legend, and they’ll have a hard time getting to sleep on Christmas Eve. Because our stockings are still hung by the chimney with care, and my boys know St. Nicholas soon will be there.

He’ll be jolly-ish as he assembles surprises late into the night (maybe we could use an elf on our shelf). He’ll drink the Coke left for him on the hearth because he’ll need the caffeine. And before he stumbles bleary-eyed into bed, he might even raid the fridge.

Hyperactive Goats, a Pragmatic Pope, and the Bitter Red Cups of Satan

According to legend, sometime in the tenth century or so, Ethiopian goat herder Kaldi made a discovery that would forever change the course of the world. He noticed that his goats were suddenly acting kind of like two-year-olds at bedtime, annoyingly energetic and determined not to sleep.

These guys look like they could use some coffee beans. photo credit: little bobbies via photopin (license)
These guys look like they could use some coffee beans. photo credit: little bobbies via photopin (license)

Kaldi traced the behavior to a berry the goats ingested and alerted the local abbot who decided to try the magic berries himself. The abbot used them to brew a bitter drink that gave him the boost of energy he needed to make it through his evening prayers. Delighted, he passed on his secret.

Soon people (and goats) across the Arabian Peninsula were gathering in cozy coffee houses, discussing politics and the weather while sipping steaming cups of coffee and staying up way past their bedtimes.

By the 17th century, coffee reached Europe and while some rejoiced, adding sugar and cream to make the stuff more palatable, others were suspicious because whereas other popular drinks of the day, like wine and beer, made you sluggish and stupid, this new beverage instead made people thoughtful, productive, and pretentious.

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But no way would you have caught Pope Clement VIII drinking coffee from a plain red cup. I bet.

And so coffee was deemed the “bitter invention of Satan,” with the local clergy in Venice condemning the drinking of the dangerous stimulant. But the people weren’t having it, convinced as they were that if they didn’t start their day with a cuppa, then they might commit homicide. So Pope Clement VIII decided to step in and settle the issue once and for all. He hopped into the pope-mobile, headed to the corner Starbucks, and ordered himself a venti Iced Caffé Latte with skim milk. And you know what? He liked it!

With Satan’s drink safely exorcized, it quickly spread to the Americas. Then in December of 1773, a group of liberty-minded men got all hopped up on coffee and dumped a whole lot of tea (which, as far as I am concerned is at least Satan’s second favorite beverage) into Boston Harbor. Thomas Jefferson then boldly declared (among other notable things) that coffee is the “the favorite drink of the civilized world.”

And for many people, it is.  Personally I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker (though I do make the occasional exception for a Starbucks vanilla Frappuccino, but that’s really more milkshake than coffee), so maybe this isn’t my war to wage. But recently, Satan reclaimed the civilized world’s favorite drink.

Because nothing says Jesus like levitating under the mistletoe. photo credit: Starbucks 'Red Cup' 2005 (mistletoe) via photopin (license)
Because nothing says Jesus like levitating under the mistletoe. photo credit: Starbucks ‘Red Cup’ 2005 (mistletoe) via photopin (license)

In case you’re not familiar with the controversy, earlier this week a video went viral of a self-declared “former pastor,” and “disciple of Jesus” explaining how he pranked Starbucks. The company, which has traditionally changed its cup designs to reflect the holiday season with pictures of sleds and snowflakes, revealed that this year its holiday cups (clearly designed by Satan himself) will simply be red with a Starbucks logo.

The “prank,” in which video guy was encouraging Christians to participate, was to tell the barista that his name was “Merry Christmas” so she’d have to write that on his cup. His claim is that by eliminating reindeer from the outside of his coffee cup, Starbucks is somehow persecuting Christians and that it is time to stand up and fight back.

Ha! Take that, Satan!
Ha! Take that, Satan!

I can’t follow the logic either. But there’ve been a surprising number of people who have taken to Twitter with images of Starbucks coffee cups with “Merry Christmas” written on them. (Ha! Take that, Satan!). I think it’s safe to assume, most of these people have had entirely too much coffee because they’re behaving kind of like hyper goats.

Of course, I’m also happy to report that a larger number of Christians have taken to social media to say, “Um…what?”

Still, perhaps it’s time to call on Pope Francis to hop into the pope-mobile and settle this mess once and for all. Because I could sure go for a vanilla Frappuccino. But don’t worry, I’ll get the last laugh. I’m going to tell the barista my name is “Snowman.”

Superglue, Bailing Wire, and Candy Cane Goo

If you were to walk into my parents’ house at Christmastime, you would see an artificial Christmas tree strung with lights and topped with the same lighted, multicolored star my parents have had for as long as I can remember. At this point I’m pretty sure the star contains more bailing wire and superglue than original material and still it’s held together mainly by the sheer will of Christmas spirit. Well, that, and maybe a little sticky candy cane goo.

The most precious ornaments are always made with Popsicle sticks put together by little fingers.
The most precious ornaments are always made with Popsicle sticks put together by little fingers.

I don’t remember when it happened because I had to have been very small at the time, but the story goes that as the family worked together to decorate the Christmas tree, my eldest brother, who is easily the tallest in the family, was teasing my sister, just two years younger and quite a bit shorter.

As she was always the most zealous keeper of holiday traditions in our house, I suspect she had been giving him a hard time about his tendency to clump the tinsel and to think little of the proper spacing of candy canes as he threw them randomly on the tree.

So he did what any young teenage boy might and stretched up beyond her reach to place a candy cane on the star. He expected it to irritate her. Instead, she was delighted. We all were. Somehow it seemed like the perfect touch to finish off the tree that primarily featured lumpy clay and Popsicle-stick-ornaments constructed by little fingers. And every Christmas since, the tree has been topped with the same (kind of garish) star and a single candy cane.

Because regardless of what religious symbolism a Christmas tree may hold (a hundred different sources will provide a hundred different interpretations), it should represent childhood and good Christmas memories.

At least that’s what Queen Charlotte, the German wife of England’s King George III, seemed to think. When she married in 1761, Charlotte spoke no English (though she learned quickly) and brought with her several German customs, one of which was the setting up of a decorated yew branch at Christmastime.

Christmas trees, or some version of them, had been part of German tradition since at least the 16th-century, when legend credits Martin Luther with the first. The claim of the legend is almost certainly false, but historians do generally agree that the first Christmas trees emerged from the general vicinity of Germany.

Queen Charlotte was certainly fond of the tradition and quickly transformed the private family yew branch celebration of her childhood into a spectacle like none the English nobility had ever seen. Then in 1800, she took the tradition to a whole new level, inviting the children of Windsor to a party featuring at its center an entire yew tree loaded with, according to one contemporary biographer, “bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged; the whole illuminated by small wax candles.”

He makes no mention of Queen Charlotte topping the tree with a star or a candy cane. Of course since there’s no definite evidence that the candy cane was invented until a hundred years later, I can give her a pass on that one.

Queen Victorian and Prince Albert gathered with their family around the Christmas tree.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert looking very stylish around the Christmas tree.

What is clear is that the tree was a hit and Christmas trees started popping up in some of the noble households over the next few years, until in 1848, The Illustrated London News featured a woodcarving of Queen Victoria and her family gathered around their Christmas tree. After that, everyone wanted one. When the picture was run two years later in the American publication Godey’s Lady’s Book, the tradition caught fire (sometimes literally) in the United States as well.

Ours is not yet held together by bailing wire and hot glue, but give it time.
Ours is not yet held together by bailing wire and hot glue, but give it time.

Queen Victoria and her Prince Albert often get the credit for popularizing the Christmas tree, but the honor may more appropriately belong to Queen Charlotte, who knew that there are some traditions worth preserving.

So if you were to walk into my house at Christmastime, you would see an artificial Christmas tree strung with lights, decorated with lumpy clay and Popsicle-stick-ornaments, and topped with a (kind of garish) multicolored, lighted star and a single candy cane.

What weird little traditions do you follow and wouldn’t dream of celebrating Christmas without?

Looming Rainbows

Another year has come and gone. Looking back at my blog post from a year ago, I see that I resolved to learn to teleport. This was because I had recently returned from a trip during which I spent a significant amount of time on an airplane with lots of strangers and their germs. I wrote that I was sick with “the worst cold of my adult life.”

Frankly I have my doubts. I honestly would not have remembered said illness if I hadn’t blogged about it. Besides, I clearly have the worst cold of my adult life right now, just at the start of 2014.

Tissue Box Cozy
Tissue Box Cozy: What I should have requested for Christmas. (Photo credit: María Magnética)

I can’t even blame this one on air travel because that wasn’t a part of our holiday plans this year as we now live so much closer to our families. There was a great deal of togetherness spread over the holidays, on both sides of the family. Food was eaten, games were played, germs were shared, and rainbows were loomed.

If you happen to have an American grade schooler in your life, you no doubt understand what I’m talking about, but in case this phenomenon has not reached your corner of the world, I’ll explain.

The latest craze to hit grade school is these bracelets made by linking together small colorful rubber bands. There’s a special loom you have to buy and then there’s about a gazillion patterns you can make. And like all of these fad kid crafts, the more complicated the pattern, the greater the cool points.

Rainbow Loom Bracelets for Sale
The way to a third grader’s heart, for now. (Photo credit: Shopping Diva)

When my third grader first mentioned it, I didn’t know what he was talking about (By third grade standards, I am apparently not cool.) Then I walked into a craft store and the first thing I saw was a mountainous display of the looms, accompanied by the sign: “No Coupons or other discounts may be applied to Rainbow Loom products. Limit of 20 looms per customer transaction.”

First of all, WHAT?! Just who is trying to buy more than 20 of these things? I bought one, which earned me a few cool points with my son.

It turned out his cousin also received rainbow looming gear for Christmas and so the holiday saw all of us adults sporting a lot of rubber bands as the cousins got to work sharing looming secrets and exchanging highly sought after colors.

Besides being a source of endless entertainment and a continuing supply of stylish jewelry (and possibly a vector for contagion), the rubber bands did also spark controversy. My son has in his toolbox of bands a color that is clearly purple, another that is clearly blue, and one that is somewhere in between. My husband tried to call it indigo, to which my son replied: “Oh, so that’s indigo.”

Because no one knows what color that really is. And I do mean no one.

English: Extract of Indigo plant applied to paper
Extract of Indigo plant applied to paper. I’m not saying it isn’t a color. Even Crayola (the gold standard of all things color) has an indigo. I’m just saying, I don’t see it in the rainbow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rainbows have been formally studied since Aristotle. Likely it was Shen Kuo of 11th century China who first more or less accurately explained how rainbows occur. But it is Isaac Newton we have to thank for this most troublesome of colors indigo. In 1672 he published a study detailing the color spectrum. His initial description included five colors and then, a few years later, he added orange and indigo because he thought it would be “pretty neat-o” to have the same number of colors as there are musical notes, days in the week, and known heavenly bodies.

Newton's color circle, showing the colors corr...
Neat-O! Newton’s color circle, showing the colors correlated with musical notes and symbols for the planets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it would have been, except that we now know that there are nine planets in our solar system (just back off, all you Pluto-haters!) and that, really, Newton has just gotten us into a whole mess of disagreement. It even turns out, when we talk about indigo, we probably aren’t talking about the same color Newton was describing. What we call indigo, he called blue and what he called blue is more what we think of as cyan (or blue green if, like me, you prefer the Crayola color spectrum).

So why is indigo still there? I think we have to blame Mr. Roy G. Biv for that. Of course we owe him a lot. Without Mr. Biv we would have a terribly difficult time remembering the order of the color spectrum and I love a good pneumonic as much as the next gal, but I think I have a solution for that. How about Ronnie Only Yodels Great Big Vocals? It’s a work in progress. I’m certainly open to family-friendly suggestions.

But I think with a little tweaking it could take off, just like the way we all learned the order of the planets in our solar system: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (or as the Pluto-hating scientists would prefer: My Very Evil Mother Just Served Us Nothing).

Pizza
Pizza: way better than nothing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So here are my predictions for this new year:

  1. I will not learn to teleport.
  2. The rainbow loom will go out of fashion and the braided embroidery thread friendship bracelet will make a comeback.
  3. Indigo will at last be expelled from the rainbow.
  4. Pluto will be reinstated as a planet thanks to the hard work of the advocacy group Very Educated Mothers for Pluto.
  5. I will have the worst cold of my adult life on the dawn of 2015.

Please don’t look at me like that.

On Christmas morning 1902, young brothers Quentin and Archie Roosevelt revealed a holiday surprise to their parents. As the first family entered the White House room where they were to open their gifts, the boys threw open a set of closet doors to reveal a small decorated Christmas tree.

English: A Christmas Tree at Home
Surprise! There were too many trees in the yard anyway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tree had been cut from the White House grounds and with a little assistance from staff had been wired for electric lights. The trouble was that President Theodore Roosevelt had specifically banned White House Christmas trees the previous year.

A dedicated outdoorsman and environmentalist, Roosevelt had listened to the increasing public concern over unnecessary forest destruction and come to the decision that his family would not participate in the holiday tradition.

Now, please believe me when I say that I am not a Christmas tree hater. I recognize that for many of the folks out there who celebrate Christmas, the season just simply would not be the same without a freshly cut tree. But I don’t have a real tree in my home.

Primarily this is because I have a family member who is terribly allergic to evergreen, but I also appreciate that artificial trees don’t need to be watered, rarely burst into flame, and possess bendy branches that are quite convenient for whimsical ornament placement. Best of all, when Christmas is over, I don’t have to worry about how to dispose of my tree.

christmas tree recycling dropoff 4
Oh. Right there? OK. (Photo credit: sdminor81)

At least I thought that was an advantage, until I moved to Oregon, which produces more live Christmas trees than any other state in the United States. Sometime during the week following our first Oregonian Christmas, a young lady knocked on our door and explained that her glee club, chess team, cheerleading squad, or something was raising funds by recycling Christmas trees for people. When I told her that we had an artificial tree, the perky smile slid from her face.

She recovered quickly, the ends of her mouth turning up, a look of disbelief in her shining eyes as she shifted to try to see around me into my home. The “tree” was easy to spot in the front room.

“Oh, okay. Thanks anyway.” She turned to walk back down the driveway, her shoulders sagging, as if I had just explained how I’d accidentally run over her puppy.

Puppy-sam
Let me be perfectly clear about this. I did NOT run over anyone’s puppy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But now we’re back in the Midwest where real trees cost nearly as much as the artificial ones and no one seems to take it as a personal affront that we prefer unpacking our tree from a box in the basement to strapping it to the roof of our car.

Still, my time in the Pacific Northwest has given me a new perspective on the advantages of real Christmas trees:

1.      Real evergreen trees make your house smell lovely and if anyone is allergic to them, his or her airway will soon clog enough to not smell them anyway so everyone wins.

2.      Real trees introduce a new crop of spiders into your home that soon take up residence and can become beloved pets for your children.

3.      Real trees spread their needles over the floor to be tracked all over the place, giving your entire home a fresh green Christmas-y feel.

4.      Real trees produce plenty of sap to coat your family’s treasured ornaments and protect them from potential breakage.

5.  When a young lady shows up on your doorstep offering to recycle your Christmas tree as a fundraiser for the annual honors orchestra trip to Boise, you don’t have to inform her that you have just run over her puppy.

And it turns out the Roosevelt family discovered a new perspective on their live Christmas tree, too. According to the story, the president was not particularly angry with his young sons, but decided that this was a teachable moment. He invited his friend and adviser Gifford Pinchot who would later serve as Chief of the United States Forest Service to explain to the boys the problems of deforestation and the use of trees for decorative purposes. Instead, Pinchot told them that sometimes the selective harvesting of older trees could be beneficial to a forest.

Christmas Tree Lot (#2548)
I’d like the one with the fewest bald spots and the most spiders, please.(Photo credit: regan76)

There’s no record of trees being reincorporated into the Roosevelt Christmas celebrations in the White House, but many reforestation laws and environmental acts came out of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. Today, most of the Christmas trees in the United States are farm raised with highly sustainable farming practices.

So go ahead all you holiday traditionalists out there. Gather with your family around your real Christmas tree and sing Dr. Seuss’s “Welcome Christmas” or whatever it is you do to celebrate. I will be with my family, passing out the gifts left under our perfectly shaped, green plastic Christmas “tree” complete with occasional clusters of small fake pine cones. In a few days, I will pull off the branches and stuff them back into the box in the basement. And I promise I will try not to run over your puppy.

Merry Christmas!

On Dasher. On Dancer. On Prancer. On Vixen. On Dominick, on Snoopy, on Baron von Richthofen.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in the Angleton home. As is tradition for our family, we decorated the tree the day after Thanksgiving (alas, I missed out on all the Black Friday deals) and the Christmas geese are shining brightly in the front yard.

It’s also beginning to sound an awful lot like Christmas, as it has become our new tradition to crank up the volume on the Christmas iTunes list to sing and dance our way through dinner prep and homework in the evenings. My six-year-old has taken to shuffling through the songs to find what he most wants to hear, which means that we skip over Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and instead listen to Lou Monte’s “Dominick the Donkey” A LOT. It also means that homework is taking a little longer these days.

But I can’t complain too much because even though there are some great songs we’re missing out on, the kid has some pretty good taste. One that he has been particularly enjoying is The Royal Guardsmen’s 1967 “Snoopy’s Christmas.”

Both of my boys like this one, which makes a practical historian mama proud, because the song indirectly honors what has to be one of my favorite moments in all of human history. It’s a follow-up to “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” a 1966 release that tells the tale of Charles Schultz’s lovable cartoon beagle who in October of 1965 began fantasizing about engaging the WW I German flying ace often known as the Red Baron in a dogfight.

Snoopy as "the World War I flying ace&quo...
Snoopy as “the World War I flying ace”, flying his Sopwith Camel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Red Baron’s real name was Manfred von Richthofen. He emerged from the defunct cavalry division of the German Imperial Army to train as a pilot, apparently with a fair amount of natural talent. With nearly eighty confirmed kills and most likely over a hundred in all, he was the most successful fighter pilot of the war, becoming something of a legend to both sides of the struggle.

Of course because he is such a legendary figure, there is some controversy surrounding his eventual death. Richthofen was wounded and went down (remarkably gracefully, according to reports) over France on April 21, 1918. He died from the shot to his chest, moments after landing. The trouble is that it has proven difficult to know who shot him.

Manfred von Richthofen from Sanke card #450. T...
Manfred von Richthofen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The kill was long credited to Canadian pilot Captain Arthur Brown, but there is a good deal of evidence that the fatal shot came from the ground.  Several historians have assigned credit to various anti-aircraft gunners who were in the area at the time. Still others believe that it was in fact Snoopy perched atop his flying doghouse that drove the Baron to the ground where he survived the wound and went on to start a highly successful frozen pizza business.

The problem with that last theory is that if we assume a certain degree of historical accuracy in the well-researched work of The Royal Guardsmen, then Snoopy and the Red Baron met one more time, on Christmas Eve.

This encounter ended very differently than the first. The Red Baron had Snoopy in his sights and instead of moving in for the kill, forced him to the ground for a friendly Christmas toast, after which the two parted ways peacefully.

I regret to inform you that there is no record of this encounter in the history books, nor of a similar one involving Richthofen, but there is a truly wonderful occasion documented in the history of WW I on which primarily British and German troops fighting in the trenches of the Western Front called a spontaneous truce and celebrated together on Christmas of 1914.

Accounts describe German soldiers beginning to sing carols on Christmas Eve and placing small, lighted trees along the edge of the trenches. Soon makeshift signs expressing Christmas greetings and suggesting a temporary peace started appearing on both sides and by morning, soldiers emerged to cross no-man’s land and shake hands. All day (and according to some accounts, for several after) soldiers took time to bury fallen comrades, exchange small gifts, and even play football (soccer) together.

This “Christmas Truce” was not government sanctioned and in fact followed a flat rejection on both sides of a December 7th suggestion from Pope Benedict XV that a temporary ceasefire be declared in honor of the holiday. Of course eventually the fighting started again and the war raged on for four more bloody years.

Never again in World War I nor in any conflict since has a similar truce been effectively carried out, but for one brief shining moment in history, the commonality of basic humanity triumphed over the absurdity of war. And Snoopy and the Red Baron shared a Christmas toast. I think that’s something worth singing about, even if it means I can’t always dream of a white Christmas as much as I’d like.

Merry Christmas (Bing Crosby album)
It may not appeal to the six-year-old crowd, but it’s still the greatest Christmas album of all time. (Bing Crosby album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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