Did you know that Texas is the only state that often celebrated Thanksgiving twice in the same year and on separate days?
You know how ornery Texans can be, and for many years if Thanksgiving fell on the fourth and fifth Thursday, the holiday became the source of bitter discussion.
For example, in November of 1956 there were two Thanksgivings. One was the federal holiday and the other was “States Rights.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the traditionally last Thursday holiday to the third Thursday to give shoppers longer time to spend much needed money by merchants. That didn’t work out, but the federal government decided to set Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday. That is, all states except Texas.
After that, if Thanksgiving fell on the fourth Thursday everything was reasonable.
But, if it fell on the fifth, confusion reigned in the Lone Star State. Banks had to decide whether to follow the federal date or the State-Rights date.
Decisions involved not only banks, but courthouses and district and federal courts, military personnel, industries, post offices, city halls and merchants. Texas schoolteachers met every year on the last Thursday in November in Houston for their annual convention. But teachers didn’t budge, parents had to find someone to watch over the children if both parents worked, and it became a mess.
Sometimes it ended up with both Thursdays taken as a holiday with two weekend back-to-back holidays. Every time that happened in Greenville, both dates were celebrated.
Texans referred to the fourth Thursday Thanksgiving as “un-American,” “Texas Thanksgiving,” “Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving” or, even before FDR, it was called a “federal abomination.”
Then the governor was given the choice of which day was Thanksgiving.
Things went well when Thanksgiving fell on the fourth Thursday, but never on the 17 times it fell on the fifth!
Roosevelt, who was not overly popular in Texas, was charged with “messing with tradition”. Many Texans called the holiday, Roosevelt’s “New Deal Thanksgiving.” Others claimed that big business caused the change in holidays. Actually, it was all political.
In 1940 and 1941, Thanksgiving fell on the fourth and fifth Thursdays. Some, like the citizens of Cuero who raised hundreds of turkeys, were elated. After all, they called their town the Turkey Capital of the World.
President Abraham Lincoln declared a thankful holiday at Gettysburg in November 1863. Of course, Texas was not involved, being Confederate.
But other states joined in the religious ceremony within five years after the war.
Gov. O.M. Roberts, who had connections here in Hunt County, refused to declare Thanksgiving a religious exercise. To him, prayer was not a government function. He was admonished by newspapers in the north and even the New Orleans Times called him the “most consummate demagogue … pandering to the worst prejudices.”
My question is, is there some contrariness in our water? Or over the years have we become more accepting of others?
Thanks to John Armstrong for sending me a copy of an article in the Greenville newspaper that was the basis for this insight.
Taylor is chairman of the Hunt County Historical Commission. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.