We celebrated Thanksgiving this past week. The annual
celebration of too much food and football that has given way to the equally
American pass times of shopping and bargain hunting.
Thanksgiving has been, for the most part, on the fourth
Thursday of November since 1863. The holiday was uniformly set on this date by
act of Pres. Abraham Lincoln. Prior to that states that observed the holiday,
mostly in the north and New England regions, each proclaimed their own
thanksgiving holiday sometime in the fall.
Many of the southern states didn’t have such a holiday
but I don’t think this is why they fought the American Civil War.
For one year, during the Great Depression, they moved the
holiday forward one week.
Even by the depression era Thanksgiving marked the start
of the Christmas shopping season. In 1939 business interests lobbied to move
Thanksgiving forward to extend the shopping season. Franklin Roosevelt approved
the move with hopes it would help restore the American economy.
Instead he just angered the people. In fact, Roosevelt
must have assumed the date change wouldn’t be popular. He didn’t announce the
change until October, just weeks before the new holiday.
The early holiday was known as “Franksgiving”
rather than Thanksgiving. Many Americans celebrated at the regular date and the
holiday shopping didn’t pick up until after the fourth Thursday of November.
Even if the public was against the holiday move it might
have been made permanent, if it had worked.
The amount of money spent on holiday gifts in 1939 was
about the same as anticipated. The shoppers didn’t spend more just because the
holiday shopping season was longer.
Which brings me to my question about our modern Black
Friday hysteria. Does anyone spend more just because the stores open earlier
and run bizarre advertisements? The wise consumer budgets what they can spend
on holiday gifts and spends accordingly. The longer hours and sales shouldn’t
increase sales but may move the spending to earlier in the season.
But it seems the Black Friday hysteria has become as much
a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as holding the event on the fourth
Thursday of Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t anticipate any more efforts to move the
holiday or curtail retail promotions.
We Americans take our holidays and shopping too seriously
for that type of government interference.