When state and national plans collided, Colorado could not pick a single day to celebrate Thanksgiving.
DENVER — The date on the calendar may change, but Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday for decades.
Congress made it so in 1941, following years of indecision.
Early Thanksgivings in the 1620s did not abide by a strict date, nor were they formally named.
During his presidency, George Washington proclaimed there would be a day designated for giving thanks in 1789, one year after the first Congress recommended it. He dubbed November 26 of that year as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin,” according to the National Archives, but no annual standard existed.
Not until President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a federal holiday in 1863 was it official nationwide. He designated the holiday should fall on the last Thursday of November. Years later, under pressure from retailers who wanted a longer shopping season, President Franklin D. Roosevelt opted in 1939 to move Thanksgiving up by a week.
But change is hard.
Technically, Roosevelt’s decision applied only to federal employees, but a group of governors wanted to stay in line with the president. Twenty-three of the 48 states adjusted to the new day, while 23 other states held firm in tradition. There were even critics, per History.com, who called the new day “Franksgiving.”
Then there were the two states that went back for seconds. As described on the Library of Congress website, both Colorado and Texas decided to have two Thanksgivings that year, on both Nov. 23 and Nov. 30 of 1939.
It was written in an Associated Press article that state attorneys in Colorado found a statute saying any Thanksgiving day proclaimed by the governor or the president would be a legal holiday. Colorado’s governor wanted to stick with Nov. 30.
“Governor Ralph Carr has designated Thursday, November 30, as Thanksgiving day in Colorado this year. President Roosevelt has issued a proclamation setting Thursday, November 23rd as Thanksgiving day throughout the nation so it appears that the people of Colorado will have an opportunity to observe two days for Thanksgiving day. Perhaps two days will not be too many upon which to give thanks this year if we fully appreciate our blessings,” a blurb in the Wray Rattler said.
Not everyone could agree on what to do with these two days, however.
The Arvada Enterprise wrote the Arvada School District would acknowledge both weeks, giving two days off school for the national holiday and one day off school for the other.
The Colorado School of Mines, however, said “Roosevelt’s proclamation will be left in the dust” because the schedules were already made. Mines celebrated only on the 30th.
“Also, there is a football game scheduled with Regis for the 30th. So you optimists who were thinking in terms of two vacations are herby disillusioned,” a blurb in the school’s Oredigger paper said.
In another newspaper article titled “What date shall city eat turkey?”, it was said the banks weren’t sure what to do. The banks in Moffat County, at least, closed for both holidays.
The city of Ignacio, in La Plata County, celebrated Thanksgiving on the 30th, in opposition of what the mayor wanted. The same was true in Kremmling. Denver and Aurora decided to celebrate on Nov. 23. Estes Park observed both days.
Individuals and families had to make their own decisions about when to celebrate. The Winder family in Craig, according to the newspaper, went to Salt Lake City for the first Thanksgiving and celebrated at home for the second. But in an op-ed published in the Arvada Enterprise, another Coloradan said Gov. Carr should be “ashamed of himself” for not just moving the holiday to the 23rd.
Editors from the Wray Gazette celebrated the idea of two turkey dinners but said they didn’t see what the problem was with moving Thanksgiving.
“We see no harm in the president’s date except that it will make every calendar in the United States wrong, and we do wish that the two executives could get together on a mutual date and stop all this foolishness,” they said.
However, a blurb in the Craig Empire Courier might have had the best solution.
“As we approach our official Thanksgiving Day, which is confusing since many people have already celebrated the special day for Thanksgiving, it occurs to me that we might well distribute our thanksgiving for life, liberty and happiness, for the glorious blessings we enjoy through friendships, books and music, and for the good and beautiful which surrounds us, not only over two days but over 365 days each year.”