Before 1939, Thanksgiving was held on the last Thursday of November. After all, this was the day on which Abraham Lincoln celebrated Thanksgiving when he made it an official national holiday in 1863.
But desperate times call for desperate measures.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, the Great Depression gripped the country. It was suggested in Roosevelt’s first year in office that he move Thanksgiving up a week, seeing as the last Thursday also fell on the last day of the month, Nov. 30. See, research showed that most Americans began their Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving. The later Thanksgiving came, the later the shopping would begin. The later the shopping began, the shorter shopping season would run. The shorter shopping season ran, the more damage would be done to the already-struggling economy, and so on …
Roosevelt thought better of it that year, but, when faced with a Nov. 30 Thanksgiving in 1939, he took action. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to Nov. 23, and set off a holiday outcry unlike any other. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on the subject, and letters poured into the White House. Schools had already set vacations and Thanksgiving Day football games, calendar makers had already marked the last Thursday of November as a holiday, small businesses feared they would lose customers to bigger businesses, and many were angered at the alteration of an American tradition.
States took matters into their own hands, as some governors declared Nov. 30 a holiday. This also created problems, though. Families with relatives in different states couldn’t get together if their Thanksgiving didn’t fall on the same date. Some families chose to celebrate twice. To avoid this problem in the future, Congress passed a 1941 law stating Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November — by everyone in America.