In 1941, Delaware divided over FDR’s Thanksgiving

President Franklin D. Roosevelt cares a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. (National Archives photo)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt cares a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. (National Archives photo)

DOVER — At least our latest political feuding has not drawn Thanksgiving into it.

Back in 1941, Delawareans were grumbling with their mouths full.

With war looming, Delawareans were upset about Thanksgiving — not the holiday itself, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision that it should be held on the third Thursday of the month.

Delaware, in its form of the day, would not be told what to do.

From 1939 to 1941, FDR’s proclamations called for it to come a week earlier than Americans had been practicing since the days of Abraham Lincoln.

FDR’s intent was to give a little more space and shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to help beleaguered store owners.

It wasn’t a law, so many of the states — including Delaware — said tough turkey.

President Roosevelt’s choice was Nov. 20.

Delaware Gov. Walter Bacon, a Republican, stuck with the fourth Thursday, Nov. 27.

Soldiers stationed in Delaware had to observe the date in the federal proclamation.

Wilmington’s Sunday Morning Star, Delaware’s only Sunday newspaper at the time, had an account in its Nov. 23 edition from Rehoboth Beach that was headlined, “Twin Thanksgivings confuse Rehoboth.”

From the Editor logo copy copy“The dual Thanksgiving holiday this year caused might be called ‘Thanksgiving Stew’ in this community. Since many of the men are employed at Fort Miles in Lewes, their celebration was held this past week but many of their children attend the local school and their holiday will occur next week — creating a domestic complication.”

A letter-to-the-editor writer in the Nov. 30 edition in the Star noted, “This Thanksgiving idea was never intended to be made a political issue but with some of our citizens, it could not escape that classification.”

“L.G.” — the author of the letter — wondered why there was a need for two holidays if they had to be crammed so closely together.

“As the major performance is to gourmandize and completely outrage the gastronomic machinery as the most insane possible way to celebrate, it still looks like a humane method to allow a wide spell between bouts; and give the doctor time to catch up on his calls; for the widespread indulgence in excessive eating and drinking creates a harvest for the physician and not a few appointments for the undertaker.”

In the same edition, there was an amusing Democratic Musings commentary penned by “Thomas Jefferson.”

“With the passing of last Thursday, the Roosevelt haters will have to find some new way of expressing their opposition to the President. From now on, those dear souls, so devoted to the fourth Thursday in November, as Thanksgiving Day — which they mistakenly termed traditional — may now relax their bound muscles, resulting from the President’s proclamation of a few years ago, changing Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November.

“Though a similar change was made to former Presidents and though for about a decade in the nation’s history there was no proclamation at all, most of the Republican governors including Governor Bacon of Delaware fared forth in defense of what they termed a sacred tradition, instead of following the President’s proclamation, as had always been done by governors of all the states, regardless of the President’s political persuasion.”

The column noted that Congress had agreed to a Joint Resolution that would make all future Thanksgivings the fourth Thursday of November a legal holiday. President Roosevelt, on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, signed it and 1942 its official start.

“That should make everybody happy,” wrote “Thomas Jefferson” in the Democrats’ column.


The Delaware State News will have another “stuffed” holiday edition on Thanksgiving Day.

Keeping with tradition, our fourth Thursday of the month of November, will be a big one for the informed shopper.

Black Friday shopping will get an early start again. Many of the major retailers in Dover will open at 5 or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

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