Some things are like clockwork. My beagle always screams for kibble at 7:30 a.m. on the dot. I always take my recycling out on Saturdays, when I run into my Russian neighbor smoking a cigarette and muttering “another day in paradise” to absolutely no one. And Thanksgiving always falls on the fourth Thursday in November. But it wasn’t always that way—until good ol’ Father Capitalism intervened. (Hat tip to our friends at The Daily Meal for inspiring our query.)
According to the Library of Congress, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day to be the last Thursday of November in 1863. But in 1865, then-president Andrew Johnson switched things up to the first Thursday in November. Fast forward to 1869, and President Ulysses S. Grant selected the third Thursday for Thanksgiving. Mayhem clearly ruled the day.
Thankfully, President Franklin D. Roosevelt put a stop to the pandemonium. In 1939, Roosevelt was feeling the heat from the National Dry Goods Association. The group wanted Roosevelt to extend the Christmas shopping season, so he moved the holiday to the penultimate Thursday of the month to give retailers more time to peddle their Christmas goods.
That’s where things got even more bananas. The Library of Congress notes that Roosevelt’s original proclamation only applied to Washington, D.C., and federal employees, which meant state governors could make their own rules. In 1939, 23 states celebrated on Nov. 23; 23 states celebrated on Nov. 30; and Texas and Colorado declared both Thursdays to be state holidays. This left retailers unsure of when to mark down Kewpie Dolls, while the nation’s uncles were confused about the logistics of beaning their weird nephews with the ol’ pigskin.
President Roosevelt couldn’t let that mayhem stand, so he signed official legislation establishing Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November. Later, Congress introduced legislation to ensure that no future presidents could change the date of the holiday. The National Dry Goods Association may have been a lot of things, but disorganized wasn’t one of them.