What Day Is Thanksgiving?

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Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November sparked controversy. It was well within his right, however; but Congress regulated it.

In the Irving Berlin movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, Holiday Inn, each holiday is introduced with the picture of a calendar and an animation of the symbol for a holiday. Thanksgiving follows suit with a calendar introduction, but it is different because the turkey on the calendar cannot decide upon which Thursday to settle: the third or the forth.

From 1939 to 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the third Thursday in November in an attempt to lengthen the Christmas shopping season. According to the article, “The Year We Had Two Thanksgivings,” published by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, “On Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1939, Franklin Roosevelt carved the turkey at the annual Thanksgiving Dinner at Warm Springs, Georgia, and wished all Americans across the country a Happy Thanksgiving.” This third-Thursday proclamation was repeated through November 1941, when Congress declared the fourth Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

While Thanksgiving was traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, following the precedent set by President Abraham Lincoln, the day that Thanksgiving was to be celebrated was determined by the current president from year to year. President Franklin Roosevelt was not out of line by issuing a Thanksgiving proclamation one week earlier than to that which Americans were accustomed. This was called “Franksgiving” by many.

Large retail businesses were happy with the proclamation and even encouraged it. In fact, they encouraged President Roosevelt to change the date in 1933 when Thanksgiving had fallen on the last day in November during the first year of his presidency. He ignored their pleas, but succumbed to their requests in 1939 when it had once again fallen on the last day in November.

Many American citizens were quite upset with the early proclamation, and with good reason.

  • Calendars were printed one to two years in advance and were rendered incorrect upon the inconsistent proclamation.
  • Many states chose to celebrate Thanksgiving following the tradition set by President Lincoln. This made it impossible for some families to celebrate Thanksgiving together because neighboring states would have different Thanksgiving Days.
  • Small businesses were upset that the longer Christmas shopping season would steal business from them because the shorter season would force overflow shoppers into their establishments.

Fourth Thursday in November Declared Thanksgiving Holiday

Public indignation sparked Congress to pass a law establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the national holiday known as Thanksgiving. This occurred the day after Christmas in 1941, shortly after the third year of two Thanksgivings.

There is a misconception that Thanksgiving is held on the last Thursday of November, but this incorrect. For example, November 30, 1944 was the fifth Thursday of the month, but Thanksgiving was held on the fourth Thursday falling on November 23, 1944.

Since 1941, the responsibility of declaring a Thanksgiving proclamation has no longer been the responsibility of the President. Since December 26, 1941, calendar makers and close-knit families have no longer needed to question the day that is Thanksgiving. Unless Congress changes the Thursday upon which Thanksgiving falls, it will forever be held on the fourth Thursday in November.