In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt upset the majority of the nation when he changed the date of Thanksgiving. Up to that point, the date of Thanksgiving hadn’t been set by federal law, but since Lincoln’s presidency, it had become tradition to hold the holiday on the last Thursday in November.
In 1939, though, November had five Thursdays, so Thanksgiving was going to fall on the 30th, which retail lobbyists worried would shorten—and therefore hurt—the Christmas shopping season. So in August, Roosevelt decided to move Thanksgiving up a week, to the second-to-last Thursday, the 23rd.
The move created an uproar. Not only did many people dislike this change to what had become a tradition, but moving the date of Thanksgiving disrupted vacation plans, football schedules, and calendar production.
Since Thanksgiving’s date wasn’t determined by federal law, individual governors could decide whether their states would side with the president or keep the holiday on its traditional date. That first year, 23 states celebrated on the old date, 22 on the new day, and 3 on both. The two dates began to be known as Republican Thanksgiving and Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving (also commonly called “Franksgiving,” based on the president’s first name), though the division wasn’t entirely along party lines.
The following year, 1940, Roosevelt again moved Thanksgiving to the second-to-last Thursday, and that year 32 states celebrated with the president, while 16 stuck with tradition. Come 1941, data from the last two Christmas shopping seasons revealed that making Thanksgiving come earlier hadn’t had a significant effect on sales, so Roosevelt decided to bow to popular opinion and move Thanksgiving back to its traditional date, with the change to take effect in 1942.
But in the fall of 1941, Congress decided to cement the date of Thanksgiving once and for all by passing a resolution that officially set the date for the fourth Thursday in November. President Roosevelt signed it into law on December 26, 1941.