Helen Eshom

Helen Eshom 

Have you ever asked yourself: Have Republicans and Democrats ever gotten along? On anything?

Americans know that celebrating a day of thanksgiving goes back to the Pilgrims in 1621. Forward to 1863 for President Lincoln’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation: “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with blessings. To these bounties, we are prone to forget the source from which they come. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, peace has been preserved, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be reverently acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Oct. 3, 1863. Signed A. Lincoln.

On Thanksgiving Day 1924, Santa Claus debuted at the closing of the first ‘Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade’, because an unwritten agreement had been struck between retailers and consumers: Christmas would not come to the stores before Santa did. For years afterwards, stores waited until the day after Thanksgiving [last Thursday] to launch Christmas and begin the shopping season.

However, in 1939, merchants reeling from the adverse effects of the decade-long Great Depression worried that the late date of Thanksgiving that year (November 30th, last Thursday and 5th Thursday as well) and the shortened all-important holiday shopping season would sink them. They feared risking public anger by starting Christmas sales early, so they appealed to the most powerful man in the free world, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: bump Thanksgiving up by a week to the second-to-last [or fourth] Thursday of the month that year, that being the 23rd to replace the 30th , theoretically giving shoppers an extra week to spend more money, giving the economy a crucial and much-needed boost.

This move would not be sacrilegious. While presidents had customarily declared a day of thanksgiving be observed, “Thanksgiving Day” was not yet a federal holiday and Roosevelt thought it within his rights to move the holiday if he felt the need. Such declarations amount to using the "moral authority" of the Presidency.

So Aug. 14, 1939, President FDR [D] deviated from custom and declared thanksgiving be observed not on the last Thursday in November that year but the second-to-last or fourth of five Thursdays, that is Nov. 23. The stuffing hit the fan!

This became fodder for political attacks, humor, and felt religious persecution. Many college football teams routinely ended their seasons with rivalry games on Thanksgiving [the last Thursday] and Bill Walton, head football coach at Little Ouachita College threatened to “vote the Republican ticket if Roosevelt interferes with our football.” Of note, Macy’s held its Parade on the 23rd, to prolong the Christmas shopping season.

It turned out that things split evenly down the middle and along party lines. While a Gallup poll showed that most Americans disapproved of the date change, 22 states, predominately Democrat, went along with Roosevelt's plan [second-to-last], and 23, predominately Republican, kept the old date [last]. And a few celebrated both days. The press referred to Nov. 30 [5th and last Thursday] as “Republican Thanksgiving”, and the 23rd [4th Thursday, second-to-last] as “Democrat Thanksgiving” or, as Atlantic City Mayor Thomas Taggart dubbed it, “Franksgiving.” [Franklin-Thanksgiving].

After successfully managing the beginning transformation of a special American holiday, FDR announced just days later on Aug. 31, 1939 that he would similarly designate Nov. 21, 1940 [second-to-last Thursday].

The years 1939 and 1940 came and went. The 1941 Wall Street Journal, armed with data from the 1939 and 1940 holiday shopping seasons, declared the move a bust that provided no real boost to retail sales. Roosevelt on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 1941, signed a joint Congressional resolution making “Thanksgiving Day” a federal holiday to be celebrated henceforth on the fourth Thursday of November, and on Dec. 26, 1941 Congress passed it as law.

Timing is everything, though. Calendars, already published, had Thanksgiving on the third or second-to-last Thursday in 1941. Millions of people had made plans based around that, so the legislation sat for a year and finally went into effect on Thanksgiving 1942, when Roosevelt called for observation in prayer of both it and the New Year's Day to follow.

Today we live in a politically polarized, divided nation, but do we go backwards and celebrate holidays separately [no family gatherings], or do we move forward - with plenty else to talk about at Thanksgiving rather than politics. Religion! Healthy eating! Weather!

Happy Thanksgiving, 4th Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019.

— The Daily Times asked Barren County’s Republican and Democratic parties to submit columns for regular publication. Both parties will be given equal opportunities and space to express their messages in a respectful manner.

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