The year there were TWO Thanksgivings

Here’s a Thanksgiving episode of the Jack Benny Show from 1939. The running gag is that there were two Thanksgivings that year…and there really was!

A Newsweek Magazine 1939 cartoon that depicted which states were celebrating which Thanksgiving date. Note that the Pilgrim looks like FDR! (Wikimedia)

Thanksgiving had not yet been set as a fixed holiday, as it was set each year by Presidential Proclamation. Presidents had traditionally set Thanksgiving for the last Thursday in November as President Lincoln had first done.

But in 1939, President Roosevelt acquiesed to the request of retailers who wanted to have an additional week of Christmas gift sales. At that time, shoppers tended not to shop for Christmas presents until after Thanksgiving.

In 1939, Thanksgiving was to fall on November 30, which was so late in the month, he moved it up to the 23rd.

However, calendars had already printed Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. School breaks and Thanksgiving Day football games had to be rescheduled. It was quite the mess! Some states adhered to one Thanksgiving date, other states the other. Some people were so irritated, they called it “Franksgiving” (after Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Twenty-three states and the District honored the 23rd date. Twenty-two states stuck with the 30th date, including Virginia. And three states celebrated on BOTH dates!

I think we can assume the Macy’s Day Parade that year took place on the 23rd, as President Roosevelt was from New York. Here’s a clip of the Parade in 1939. Can you spot Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?

Congress ultimately passed a law in December 1941 so that Thanksgiving would always fall on the fourth Thursday of the year.

Jack Benny was a funny man but he also gave most of the best lines to his colleagues, including Mary Livingstone, whose real name was Sadie Marks (she later had it changed legally to Mary Livingstone). In the program, Mary was a friend of Jack’s, but in real life, they were actually married. She became popular on the radio program after appearing as a stand-in for a last-minute cancellation. She received so much fan mail, NBC kept her on as a regular. She is a standout in this episode.


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