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Is Thanksgiving Later?

By Staff | Nov 20, 2008

As the first annual snowfall still covers the local landscape, local residents might be saying to themselves, “It’s too early for snow!” And they would probably be in agreement with a majority of the population.

Being that it is not even Thanksgiving yet and there have already been school delays and cancellations due to inclement weather, it feels as though there was no time at all this year to enjoy the beautiful fall landscape. Everything that is so familiar, so normal this time of year seems to be a little out of balance. Even Thanksgiving to some. It has been said that the holiday seems very late this year. It is indeed later than last year’s observance on Nov. 22. The holiday does move around a bit from year to year and a look at history explains why.

On Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day that was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. Although the nation was, at that time, torn apart by civil war, President Lincoln basked in the bounty of the nation, the “fruitful fields” and the “healthful skies”. Since that day, Thanksgiving has been an annually observed holiday but was not technically a matter of federal law.

In 1939, the United States was still in the midst of the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt it necessary to do whatever possible to improve the nation’s economy. As a result of the Thanksgiving Day proclamation not being federal law, President Roosevelt strayed from tradition. Because the month of November had five Thursdays that year, President Roosevelt declared the fourth Tuesday of the month Thanksgiving in order to provide more time for merchants to sell Christmas items. In those days it was not acceptable to purchase Christmas items before Thanksgiving. He felt that this would stimulate the economy and push the nation out of the Great Depression.

The following year provided only four Thursdays in the month of November; following suit, President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day to the third Thursday, once again to allow more time for consumers to spend before Christmas. Roosevelt’s decision to change the date of observance was not accepted by every state, as it was not legally binding. Texas, for example, could not decide on which date to observe Thanksgiving and therefore took both weeks as government holidays.

In 1941 the United States Congress passed a bill making it a federal holiday that is to be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of the month, whether it is the last or next to last Thursday of the month. President Roosevelt signed the bill on Dec. 26, 1941, officially making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law.