George Will

But Appomattox not withstanding, states remained free to do as they liked about Thanksgiving, and Southern states liked to observe it when they chose. Or not at all, as in Texas during the governorship of Oran Milo Roberts, who said, ``It's a damned Yankee institution anyway.''

But in 1939 many of the nation's larger merchants -- the National Retail Dry Goods Association, the presidents of Gimbel Brothers and Lord & Taylor -- asked FDR for relief from the fact that in 1939 Thanksgiving would arrive so late -- Nov. 30 -- that it would injure the economy by delaying the start of Christmas shopping.

However, the class struggle erupted, pitting smaller merchants against the larger merchants. The proprietor of Arnold's Men's Shop in Brooklyn wrote to urge FDR to allow the later Thanksgiving: ``If the large department stores are overcrowded during the shorter shopping period before Christmas, the overflow will come, naturally, to the neighborhood store. ... We have waited many years for a late Thanksgiving to give us an advantage over the large stores.''

FDR felt the pain of the large merchants. But some people felt pained by FDR's tampering with Thanksgiving, including Oregon's attorney general, author of the doggerel printed above. A West Virginian wrote FDR to say, while you are at it, please declare it ``strictly against the Will of God to work on Tuesday'' and ``have Sunday changed to Wednesday." A South Dakota real estate man admonished FDR to ``remember we are not running a Russia or communistic government," and he added: ``Between your ideas of running for a third term, and your changing dates of century-old holidays, we believe you have practically lost your popularity and the good will of the people of the Northwest." FDR lost South Dakota in 1940.

But in 1939, 23 states followed FDR's lead and celebrated Thanksgiving on Nov. 23. Twenty-three stayed with Nov. 30. Colorado and Texas celebrated on both days, Texas doing so to avoid having to reschedule -- speaking of things to give thanks for -- the Texas-Texas A&M football game.

FDR, who enjoyed fidgeting with things, promised in 1941 to return Thanksgiving to the last Thursday in November. But history has its hold on us and Congress shoved it back to the fourth Thursday, partly because many constituents believed the pilgrims had put it there in the first place.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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