Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Can Plainfielders thank FDR for Black Friday beginning on Thanksgiving?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor celebrate Thanksgiving.

Is it true Plainfielders have President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to thank for Christmas shopping's kickoff Black Friday's move to Thanksgiving evening?

Or maybe Macy*s?

From the date of Macy*s first Thanksgiving Day parade in 1920 (see more here), American consumers had come to expect the Christmas shopping season to begin after Santa Claus' appearance in the parade.

The appearance of Santa Claus in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
(here in 1939) marked the beginning of the Christmas selling season.
At the time, Thanksgiving was NOT a national holiday, but was celebrated on the LAST Thursday of November. After the President of the United States issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, governors of the individual states would issue their own proclamations, all aligning with the President's.

But with the Great Depression of the 1930s, the tone of these celebratory events became much subdued what with the desperate conditions among the American populace with mass unemployment, homelessness and hunger stalking the land (see more here).

In his first Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1933, Roosevelt matched his thoughts with the country's mood --

...May we ask guidance in more surely learning the ancient truth that greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness or good to the individual or to his neighbors.

May we be grateful for the passing of dark days; for the new spirit of dependence one on another; for the closer unity of all parts of our wide land; for the greater friendship between employers and those who toil; for a clearer knowledge by all nations that we seek no conquests and ask only honorable engagements by all peoples to respect the lands and rights of their neighbors; for the brighter day to which we can win through by seeking the help of God in a more unselfish striving for the common bettering of mankind...
By 1939, the country, though doing better economically, was still not completely out of the grip of the Depression.

In late summer of that year, a retail executive warned the Roosevelt administration that the late date of Thanksgiving that year (November 30) could negatively impact the Christmas sales desperately needed by the country's retailers. (Then, as now, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's constituted the busiest and most profitable time of the year in retail.)

The hope was the earlier date would boost holiday sales.
The idea of advancing the holiday by way of the President's proclamation worked its way up the chain of communications and FDR decided in late October to move the date up by a week to the next-to-last Thursday of November.

Such short notice of the change caused an uproar: everything from treasured high school and college football games to long-planned local parades and celebrations to retailers' own advertising campaigns had to be changed. FDR's critics had a field day, nicknaming the moved holiday 'Franksgiving' -- a term coined by the mayor of Atlantic City, you should know (see here).

The White House was flooded with complaints decrying everything from potential harm to businesses to the disruption of NYU's annual football game (see sample letters here).

Though the states were divided between the two dates (and two chose to celebrate BOTH), Roosevelt stuck to his guns, making the same declaration for 1940. The ruckus became such an issue that Congress finally resolved it
on December 26, 1941, by declaring the FOURTH THURSDAY of November as Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday. With the country just entering World War II, there was no mood for any further division over such a matter.

Amid all the hubbub this year over whether advancing Black Friday's shopping madness to Thanksgiving evening is a good thing for business or a bad thing for the holiday, it might be useful to reflect on this little bit of history and how a cherished president like Franklin Delano Roosevelt could back into a real public relations buzz-saw.

Oh, did the change of date have the desired outcome for retail sales?

According to Jennifer Rosenberg, writing on, for the 1939 season those stores that moved to the earlier week found their sales spread evenly throughout the shopping season; those keeping to the later week experienced the bulk of their sales in the last week before Christmas (see here). It does not appear that sales actually grew at all.

President Obama, wisely, has stayed out of this one.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.


K Donhauser said...

Well the often told tale of Uncle Elmer holding his household's Thanksgiving on a different day then the rest of the family is now cleared up!! We heard it often laughed about by the grownups who told of days gone by as they sat in the dining room, while us children ate at the fold up card table in the living room.

Yesterday I got to sit at the "Big Peoples" table, and yes, the stories were mostly about the fond old days on Myrtle Ave. Thanks for the history lesson and memory jolt!

Ken Donhauser

Pat Turner Kavanaugh said...

Dan: tiny bit of local lore. To open the brand new Bamberger's at the corner of E. Front Street and Roosevelt Avenue Santa Claus arrived at a Plainfield fire truck. I was there. That'a when we had Teppers and Rosenbaum 's, the Surprise Store, Tiny Tots. Sears, what my father insisted on calling Monkey Ward, Gregory's,Sobel's, Clara Louise Team Room,two or three book stores, four movie theaters.

Jeff said...

Hi Dan,
Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving. It was great seeing the old letters and gasp, telegrams, sent to FDR over the date change. It always nice to get a history lesson.