Holiday shopping big part of Turkey Day, even in 1940
Citizens of Orangeville were having troubles, the Nov. 14, 1940, Warren Tribune Chronicle front page stated.
It was because of two Thanksgiving Days that year.
Although officially a Trumbull County town, the little village, population 500, lay partly in Ohio and partly in Pennsylvania, divided down the middle by, you guessed it, Main Street.
The problem? Ohio was celebrating Thanksgiving on Nov. 21, while across the street, Pennsylvania was celebrating one week later, on Nov. 28.
According to the front page article bearing the headline, “Trumbull Town Cut By State Line Finds Itself With Two ’40 Thanksgiving Days And A Problem,” the difference of a week apparently was creating all sorts of havoc in the little town.
When should businesses close for the holiday? When should families, including the mayor and his sister, get together for their turkey dinners? When should the pastor at the local Baptist Church deliver his Thanksgiving sermon?
The entire problem stemmed from the fact that, back then, there was no federal designation for when Thanksgiving should be celebrated.
I learned of this whole crazy situation last week when I got a call from an avid reader of our newspaper who thought I might find this story of great interest.
He was right.
Until I answered his call, I had no knowledge of all this Orangeville drama. (Heck, I wasn’t even alive back then.) So, I did what any good journalist would do to further research this matter. I Googled it.
I’m pretty confident that the reporter who wrote that front page Orangeville story in 1940 would have done the same — that is, if Google existed back then.
But I digress.
According to the National Archives, available at archives.gov, President George Washington, in 1789, first proclaimed Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789, as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.”
In the years that followed, subsequent presidents did the same, but the dates and months of these annual celebrations varied. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving would be regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.
But in 1939, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. That concerned President Franklin D. Roosevelt. You see, even back then, the day after Thanksgiving was viewed as the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. Roosevelt worried that the late holiday would shorten the Christmas shopping season and possibly dampen the economy. He responded by issuing a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second-to-last Thursday of November.
As a result, 32 states followed suit. Ohio was among them. But 16 other states, Pennsylvania among them, refused. They proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. So, for a couple years, two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving in America and in Orangeville.
To end the confusion, Congress on Oct. 6, 1941, passed a resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day.
Great! That explains it. Right?
Not so fast! Thanksgiving 2023 is not the last Thursday of the month. This year November has five Thursdays. Could it be? Are we mistakenly celebrating on the wrong date this year?
No. Just like 2023, there was dissension among the halls of the Capitol.
The Senate amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years, like 2023, when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.
And so, Orangeville struggled with its problems for at least one more Thanksgiving until the federal law took effect. And by 1941, Orangeville’s mayor, pastor, business owners and all the shoppers had a clear definition on when to gather for holiday dinners, when to preach about Thanksgiving, when to close the stores for the day and, yes, when to start their holiday shopping.
I hope you had a peaceful and safe Thanksgiving holiday with your family and loved ones. And now, I hope you are enjoying some time bustling about getting a good, strong start on your holiday shopping.