This was probably held in September or October, but not as late in November as it is today. President Abraham Lincoln established the last Thursday in November as an official Thanksgiving holiday.
The Holiday recalls an earlier time when most Americans lived on farms and harvested their own produce and shared it with neighboring farmers. City dwellers could drive the horse and buggy or Model T out to an outlying farm and have a turkey or chicken or hog butchered for them to take back to the city for dinner. If it was a big city, like Manhattan, the farmers would bring in their hogs and turkeys to local butchers who would prepare them for customers to come in and buy by the pound.
We rarely go out to a farm to buy our produce or meat these days. Farmers bring produce into San Ramon Farmers Markets on Saturday and Thursday, or we can shop in the local supermarkets where everything is available in shrink wrap. Somehow that makes the holiday less traditional or representative of its original purpose.
Instead Thanksgiving has become the gateway to Christmas shopping, with stores starting their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving night. Many groups decry the over-commercialization of the holidays, but as President Calvin Coolidge said, "After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world."
Coolidge proclaimed this in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in January of 1925. It was something of a "Greed is good," speech, but according to Coolidge greed isn't really greed. "In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture."
I'm kind of on the fence about this. I agree with it up to a point, and I see why it is necessary for everyone to get out of your Thanksgiving stupor and head on over to Target or Macy's and start shopping ASAP. This is how our economy is measured, by sales, production, and GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
Coolidge appears to have been right. In 1939 retailers asked President Franklin Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up a week from November 30th that year to November 23rd to add an extra week to the Christmas shopping period in the hope people would buy more and stimulate the sluggish economy.
There was of course some political upheaval over this, and Thanksgiving was celebrated either week or both weeks in some states. The Congress officially set the date in 1941 as the fourth Thursday in November.
This year that gives shoppers almost five weeks until Christmas. Next year Thanksgiving will be on November 28, 2013, which will give shoppers less than four weeks.
So get out there and spend, spend, spend while you have the extra time to shop. Let's hope Coolidge was right about how helpful the accumulation of wealth is to "the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence," and other good things that the wealthy are supposedly providing for the rest of us.