Americans used to have the quaint custom of not putting out Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. That custom seemed to bode ill for the American economy in 1939 with Thanksgiving falling on November 30. President Lincoln had established the custom of Americans nationally thanking God for His blessings on the last Thursday in November. Now another president was going to make a change in this custom.

1939 was a lackluster year for the American economy, and President Roosevelt made the decision in August that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday instead, November 23. Polls indicated that a majority of the American people opposed the change with Republicans most opposed.

Twenty three states used the new date, twenty two states used the old date, and three states had holidays on both dates. The confusion this caused was fodder for comedians with Curly in a Three Stooges short No Census, No Feeling, remarks on the Fourth of July being in October. When Moe is incredulous, Curly responds, “You never can tell. Look what they did to Thanksgiving!”

Congress passed a Joint Resolution in 1941 formally switching Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November. Some states continued to celebrate the traditional date with Texas being the last to do so in 1956. Ironically, a 1941 survey by the Commerce Department found no significant increase in retail sales in 1940 due to the change.

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  1. “Americans used to have the quaint custom of not putting out Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving”

    In France, when I was young I recall old people complaining that Christmas decorations should not go up until O Sapientia (18th December, so called because it is the day on which the first of the O Antiphons are sung at Vespers)

  2. Of course, nowadays by Thanksgiving the Christmas decorations have been up so long they’ve got dust on them. I remember when the Christmas shopping season didn’t start until the day after Thanksgiving. Then it started drifting backwards. Interestingly, for a while it began before Halloween, but Halloween has become so commercially successful that it pushed the beginning of the Christmas season back to November 1st.

    It does interest me that the source of our secular holidays is still primarily Catholicism. Valentine’s Day (remember when it was St. Valentine’s Day?), St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween (indirectly); they’re all big secular money-makers. My bet, Mardi Gras is next.

  3. I absolutely love Thamksgiving through Epiphany. The only “lump of coal” in my happiness in the season is that they call what could be a fun family day “black Friday”. I know they are talking about making money and getting in the black–but what a downer of a name!

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