These days while we may adapt our Thanksgiving plans to accommodate the COVID virus, if possible we still enjoy being with family and friends to enjoy the traditional fare. However, in 1939 in some parts of the country – and in Athens – the actual date was under question.
From the time of Abraham Lincoln, the date of Thanksgiving had been consistently designated as the final Thursday of November and this was usually the fourth Thursday. However in 1939, as occurred occasionally, there were actually five Thursdays in November and so President Franklin Roosevelt used that as an attempt to boost the economy.
The country was still in the throes of the Depression so to allow for a longer Christmas shopping season the president declared that the fourth Thursday – the 23rd – was to be observed as Thanksgiving instead of the final Thursday (the 30th). Since at the time it was considered improper to advertise Christmas gifts before Thanksgiving this logically should have served its purpose,
There was some speculation that an executive with a department store chain had encouraged the president’s action but the date change still attracted criticism from traditionalists. Among these were Republicans opposing a Democratic president. Some even dubbed the change “Franks - giving” saying it was an affront to the memory of the Great Emancipator.
The date change also caused problem with some local events, like sports competitions, since these were set up around the traditional date of the final Thursday. In many places, particularly in Texas, many schools had a tradition of playing the season’s final football game on the traditional date and since those schedules were set in advance, a last minute switch was difficult if not impossible.
In the end a few years later Congress stepped in with resolutions about the date fixture and in December, 1941 the President established the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving and set it as a Federal Holiday.
So as it turned out, in 1939 some 23 states followed Roosevelt’s decreed date while 22 did not. So since the president’s pronouncement at the time had no legal authority many communities chose to observe one date or the other or even both. And in Athens, that’s what they did.
This was indicated by the Athens Weekly Review of November 9, 1939 when they ran a picture of a turkey perched on top of a calendar page for that month. It had two dates circled - the 23rd and the 30th and the headline was “Twenty-Three Skidoo For this Bird” and the “23 Skidoo” phrase seemed to indicate that the pictured fowl was to soon be defunct. The reporter explained the reasoning: “With the nation equally divided in observing Thanksgiving on Nov. 23 and 30, Texans will carve turkey on both days, which makes this fat gobbler’s chances pretty slim.”
So how did local businesses respond? The November 23, 1939 Athens Review article announced: “Apparently the post office and the Troy Laundry are the only two Athens institutions that will observe November 23rd as Thanksgiving.” The reporter then went on to explain that area banks would be open that date and that local merchants had previously agreed to be closed on the traditional date of November 30. The courthouse was scheduled to remain open on the 23rd and closed on the 30th.
In the next week’s issue on November 30, 1939, the traditional date had its supporters. The reporter related: “Featuring the day’s celebration here will be a football game at Bruce field at 2:00 o’clock between the Athens Hornets and Kilgore Bulldogs.”
Actually, the local post office was observing both days. “Postmaster E.L. Watson announced today that the post office, which observed the last Thursday as Thanksgiving, will partially observe this Thursday, also, closing for half a day.” Mail delivery in town and on rural routes was to take place but there would be no parcel post deliveries in the commercial district.
Then the reporter opined as to how Athenians would observe the usual holiday: “Many will go to the lakes, hunting, and quite a number will take in the A&M Texas game at College Station.”
Despite the official designation, the problem of five Thursdays in November continued as, according to one source, some locales continued to observe the last Thursday, even if it was the fifth of that month. In fact apparently Texas was one of these – and it was the practice into the 1950s.