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FDR Set Fourth Thursday Thanksgiving Date – Pundits Called It ‘Franksgiving’

Not all the names of who were at the first thanksgiving celebration are known and just for the purpose of this column, let’s say the one in 1621, the three day long party at Plymouth, Massachusetts, was the first one. Sure there are other places where a type of Thanksgiv-ing took place before 1621, but the general regard is that the 1621 one is the role model that we’re still following today. 

We know the names of those who were on the Mayflower, those who sailed from England in late summer of 1620. The Mayflower sailed with 102 Pilgrims, plus crew, and the boat sailed back in April of 1621. There were 53 Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, two being born since leaving England.  So half of them died in that first year. 

We know the Wampanoag tribe and their leader Massasoit came to the first Thanksgiving with 90 people. What is less known is that tribes in the Massachusetts area had just survived a horrific epidemic (1614 to 1620) that killed 90 percent of the indigenous population. 

Squanto, the native man who spoke English and the man who essentially saved the Pilgrims, returned from overseas in 1619 (his story alone is fascinating) to find his entire tribe of  Patuxet had died.

So maybe everybody at that first Thanksgiving said, ya know we done had enough, let’s just see if we can just keep on living.

I’d like to point out a small fact about the Mayflower Pilgrims, the ones living in Plymouth. They were not Puritans. No. The Puritans were a separate group. The Pilgrims were beer drinkers, especially drinking on boats at that time; you didn’t drink the water for several reasons. So this idea we have that they were super straight laced isn’t exactly correct. 

Plus it’s a natural fact you can’t party with 143 people for three days and remain pure.

So what has a three-day festival with arguably two groups of recently grieving folks facing another tough winter evolved into? There’s a history. Thanksgiving cruises along for 168 years as an end of harvest celebration with no determined date until George Washington celebrates it as his first year as president. That sets a pattern. But it is not an official holiday until Abraham Lincoln in 1863 makes it an official American holiday to be on the last Thursday in November. 

Just note that 11 of 35 states weren’t really listening to the Republican president at that time. In 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt changes, in what was considered a controversial move, Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November. 

Pundits called it “Franksgiving.”  FDR made the move to lengthen Christmas retail sales, as it was considered bad form and poor manners to have Christmas decorations and sales prior to Thanksgiving. Wow, that’s a change. 

Since then it has evolved that until recently Thanks-giving seemed to be a day surrounded by intense retail sales, even sales taking place on the day itself. There’s been some pushback on that, with some big box retailers saying no to being open on Thanksgiving. 

For me, it is a pleasure to be in a town where almost everybody has off that day. Main Street is shut down for the day and that’s a good thing. I hope it stays that way. And if you think about it, it is not a day that is driven by a religious or patriotic celebration. No gifts or fireworks, just a day with family, friends, and food. It is a good day to be alive. I think the 1621 crew would agree.

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