Even Thanksgiving Day has been politicized. But it didn't happen recently.
Our beloved traditional national holiday was originally established to consolidate the custom of people gathering at various times during the year to give thanks for providential events such as warm weather, rains after dry spells, successful hunts, deliverance from sickness, bountiful harvests, etc.
Since any thanksgiving was always celebrated with a feast, when Thanksgiving Day became a single annual event it naturally coincided with the harvest. But even then, Thanksgiving Day was observed in each US state on different calendar dates primarily due to the varying times of harvest in different parts of the country.
In 1863 President Lincoln sought to resolve the differences by ordering that the last Thursday in November be observed as the official US Thanksgiving Day. His intention was to create a badly needed context for national unity in the strongly divided country of his day.
So for the first time in US history, the entire country gave thanks on the same calendar day each year. This tradition continued peacefully for over seven and a half decades.
In August 1939 FDR wanted to alter the date slightly by decreeing Thanksgiving Day be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. This made Thanksgiving Day a week earlier every two out of seven years or so, whenever November has five Thursdays.
Like Lincoln's, FDR's reasoning was also rooted in the times: he wanted to boost the depression-era economy by extending the shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Unlike today, at that time it was considered very bad taste to advertise or decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving.)
The change should have been welcomed by Americans as an easy form of economic stimulus, or at least a minor alteration with acceptable return on investment. It wasn't.
Instead, FDR's seemingly innocuous plan created a firestorm of dissent centered around the "moral authority of the president to tell people when to celebrate" and the rights of states vs. the federal government to set holidays.
It had a chilling effect on the political divide, too.
Republicans claimed that the relatively minor date modification dishonored the memory of President Lincoln. They mocked the fourth Thursday holiday, dubbing it "Franksgiving Day".
So while Democrats began celebrating Thanksgiving Day on or around November 21, Republicans continued to celebrate on or around November 28. Polls taken at the time reflected these strongly-held divisions. From 1939-1941 roughly half of the US states held what we would call today a "red" Thanksgiving holiday, and half held a "blue" one.In late December 1942, FDR's "Democratic" method for fixing Thanksgiving Day on the calendar was officially adopted over the "Republican" one decreed by Lincoln. A joint resolution of Congress embodied a hope that the extra shopping time and stimulating economic effect provided by the fourth Thursday arrangement was a good idea for America.
And so for three years in the 20th century Americans returned to the pre-Civil War era practice of celebrating Thanksgiving Day on different calendar days of the year. But this time the temporal divide for observance of what is intended to be a warm communal tradition was based on party affiliations instead of seasonal variations.
Which only goes to show that money controls in politics, no matter how trivial the argument.
So when you celebrate Thanksgiving in years to come, remember that you are also celebrating "Franksgiving". And take the opportunity to give thanks for Obamacare too, which someday may become known apolitically as simply American Health Care.