Thanksgiving, the public holiday with roots in the English revolt against excessive Catholic church-going and the celebration of the harvest, is much more known today for its turkey and as the weekend that kicks-off holiday shopping.
Early celebrations of Thanksgiving in the United States took place in the 1620s. It only took 150 or so years (1789) until George Washington declared it a national public holiday that would occur on the 26th of November every year, and another 100 years approximately (1863) until Abraham Lincoln decided it should be held on the last Thursday in November.
Fast forward to 1939 – Germany is ramping up a World War and the United States is doing everything in its power to recover from the Great Depression. Thanksgiving in 1939, like any year after the Lincoln period, was going to be held on the last Thursday in November. However, in 1939 the last Thursday fell on the last day of the month – and Franklin D Roosevelt came to a very important conclusion.
Celebrating Thanksgiving that late in November will hurt the consumer spending and the economic recovery.
He took it upon himself to set this important public holiday straight. He made a Proclamation, of which 32 out of the 48 States followed, and started to celebrate Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday in November.
The reason: it would give Americans more time (up to two entire weeks) to spend their money on holiday shopping!
And the economic recovery in turn would happen faster.
It is unclear why, given that the Government was entirely run by Democrats, but in 1941 Congress passed a Proclamation to end this spectacle of celebrating Thanksgiving on different days in different states.
It was decided, after some Congress-Senate bickering, that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday in November. And all States followed suit this time.
Roosevelt’s thinking is highly applicable in today’s economic climate: we’ve just experienced the second largest economic recession since the Great Depression and we’re now heading into a Holiday shopping season with 6 fewer holiday shopping days than in 2012. Thanksgiving is uncomfortably falling on November 28th and retail executives are scratching their heads, trying to come up with plans on how to get consumers to spend their hard earned cash before Thanksgiving.
Today, they are all agreeing with Franklin D Roosevelt.
This blog post was written by Jim Lofgren, Chief Merchandising Officer & General Manager of Marketplaces, CommerceHub.