November in the United States is a month with unique opportunities to focus on “Thankfulness.”
On the 11th, we take time to thank our veterans—those who served to protect our cherished freedoms. Some celebrate with parades, special worship services, or other programs. This year, we were fortunate to have veterans visit our school and share their experiences with some of our students. My first graders came back to the classroom with a good coating of dirt down their fronts after trying the “army crawl.”
Then, on the last Thursday of the month, thousands gather together with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with activities that might include worship, parades, a large meal, and shouting at the football team of your choice on TV.
While not everyone celebrates these days to the same degree, both are pretty solidly established traditions. One expects to see both listed on the calendar when the page turns to November.
However, these holidays have something in common beyond a theme of thankfulness.
Both were moved to different dates by government acts.
And both eventually moved back to their traditional spots on the calendar.
The Uniform Holiday Bill
The holiday we now call Veterans Day in the U.S. has gone through more than one change. It started out as a time to recognize those who served in the First World War and was known as “Armistice Day.”
As the armistice that ended the WWI hostilities took effect on November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., November 11th became the traditional day of observance. This continued even after the focus of the holiday was broadened to all veterans and name of the day was changed to “Veterans Day” by President Eisenhower in 1954.
However, in 1968, the U.S. government tried to make another change.
As November 11th could fall on any day of the week, government employees wound up periodically having days off mid-week. Wouldn’t it be better, officials wondered, to just recognize all of those holidays that have specific dates on either Fridays or Mondays so that everyone could just have a comfortable long weekend?
Accordingly, LBJ signed the Uniform Holiday Act. George Washington’s birthday would be celebrated with Lincoln’s on “President’s Day” on the third Monday of February. Memorial Day would be celebrated on the last Monday of May. Columbus Day became a celebration for the second Monday in October. And Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October.
While most of these changes will still be reflected in our 2023 calendars, the Veterans Day one didn’t stick.
November 11th still held too much historical significance to too many people. In the end that, won out over convenience and Veterans Day returned to its traditional date in 1975.
Thanksgiving is a holiday with deep roots in the United States, reaching back to the Pilgrims and Plymoth Rock.
While different presidents (including George Washington) declared days of Thanksgiving here and there during early American history, it didn’t become an official holiday until the dark days of the American Civil War.
In October of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln (urged on by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Ladies Book and author of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’) declared a National Day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday in November.
While this became the “official” day to celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday didn’t make it onto the calendar for a while—the President still had to declare it each year. Still, the precedent was set, and since Lincoln’s proclamation, the celebration of Thanksgiving has really only hit one major hiccup, during another war-torn era.
In 1939, the United States was still in the tail end of the Great Depression. While FDR had instituted many programs to attempt to help the economic situation, things wouldn’t completely turn around until the U.S. entered the Second World War.
Thanksgiving of 1939 should have fallen on November 30th if it followed the usual “last Thursday” pattern. However, FDR declared that it should be celebrated on the 23rd instead. (Presumably, this was to give shoppers an extra week of spending before Christmas, helping bolster the economy.)
The change didn’t go over well.
Opponents nicknamed the holiday “Franksgiving.” Some states went along with the change in schedule, some refused to, and Texas and Colorado just celebrated twice.
FDR stuck to his choice for two years, then in 1941 he relented, and Congress officially established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November.
While gratitude and thankfulness can’t be (or at least shouldn’t be) confined to specific calendar dates, I’ll admit that I’m glad we went back to the traditional days of celebration.
Of course, the calendar is still always shifting and changing. Word is that Daylight Savings is on the chopping block of government legislature, though I don’t think I’d complain if that were to go away…
As November winds down and we prepare to turn the calendar again, we’ve already started to shift our focus in our household, though I hope that Thankfulness doesn’t go away. As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to Advent preparations as another chance to give thanks for the ultimate Gift.
Thank you so much for stopping by today!
I hope that all of you had a wonderful November! I can’t believe that it’s almost over. I had hoped to post for both of these holidays, (and do a whooooole bunch of other things) but have been working on getting back on my feet (literally) after an inner ear infection complete with vertigo. I never thought I’d be so thankful to be able to open my eyes and have the world in front of me stand still! It’s a blessing to start getting back to normal life—I was even able to make Thanksgiving Dinner. (Though I did have help getting heavy things out of the oven. I didn’t want to get dizzy and drop the turkey…)
In any case, I hope this finds you all healthy, happy, and ready to wrap up 2022.
If you’re interested in reading more on the history of Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, here are some resources you might find interesting.
My Veterans Day post on one tradition to recognize veterans: Stars of Blue and Gold
History of Veterans Day from the Department of Veterans Affairs
Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (It’s well worth a read.)