a flock of wild turkeys pecking around in search of food, the date that Texans
set aside to celebrate their blessings kept jumping around the calendar until
well into the 20th century.
Texas also got a head start on the federal
government in observing what there is to be thankful for. Fourteen years before
President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving, Texas Gov.
George Wood proclaimed a holiday for thanksgiving. (The term didn’t gain a capital
T for a good while, incidentally.)
|But just as there’s
a big difference between the federal and state government, there was a big difference
between Texas’ Thanksgiving and the federal Thanksgiving: By gubernatorial fiat
in 1849, Texas’ special day would fall on the first Thursday of December.
least Wood picked a day in the fall. Earlier, Sam Houston had a different vision
of when the holiday should be. As president of the Republic of Texas, Houston
declared March 2, 1842 as a day both to celebrate Texas’ independence and be thankful
in general. That late winter day was not only the date that Texas had formally
cut its ties with Mexico, it just happened to be Houston’s birthday.
Texas statehood, Gov. Wood moved the holiday to December, but that didn’t last
past the time his successor took over.
Gov. Peter Hansborough
Bell apparently liked Houston’s notion that Texans had more to be thankful for
in March than December. Elected on Aug. 6, 1849 and sworn in the following Dec.
21, after being in office a little more than a year, Bell issued a proclamation
formally styled “By the Governor of the State of Texas – A Recommendation.”
seven-pargraph “recommendation” was that Texans should take the day off on the
first Thursday of March. The first Thursday of March in 1850 happened to be the
6th. That day sound familiar? March 6, 1836 was the day the Alamo
fell. Since Bell did not specificlaly set March 6 aside as the holiday, it’s probably
just a concidence.
Beyond the date change, Bell’s recommendation is quite
a document. It’s hard to describe it any better than a magazine writer did nearly
a hundred years ago when he wrote:
“It abounds in rhetorical flourishes,
choicely chosen words and beautifully rounded periods, and bubbles and boils with
a degree of patriotism and love for Texas that is truly sublime.”
then, Texas chief executives did a lot of their own writing, but Bell’s Thanksgiving
remarks read suspiciously well for a fellow so country he was known to wear buckskin
and a brace of pistols when he walked down Congress Avenue from the Capitol. The
truth is, his secretary probably wrote it. Today, of course, it is a given that
such a document would be written by a staffer, not whoever’s in the Governor’s
the Civil War, as sore as most Texans were about the South having lost, they went
along with Lincoln’s selection of the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving.
After all, that’s when the pecans started falling and pumpkins lay ripe for pie-making.
But when another president tampered with Thanksgiving, Texas wasn’t so quick to
follow. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday of November
as Thanksgiving. This, all openly admitted, was to give the nation’s merchants
more to be thankful for by extending the Christmas shopping season an extra week.
of the then-48 states went along with Nov. 23, 1939 as Thanksgiving, while an
equal number decided the last Thursday, Nov. 30, was good enough. Two states –
Colorado and Texas – figured what the heck, they’d celebrate both days as Thanksgiving
Two years later, Congress passed a law making the fourth Thursday of November
the official federal holiday. But Texas, seemingly perpetually burdened with a
propensity to become chaffed by Washington’s figurative saddle, decided to stick
with the last day of November as Thanksgiving. However, since some Novembers have
five Thursdays, “fourth Thursday” and “last Thursday” were not always the same.
the 1950s, Texas remained the last state still observing the final Thursday of
November as Thanksgiving. Not until 1957 did the Texas Legislature finally pass
a bill making the fourth Thursday of November the state’s official Thanksgiving
That no governor or president has tampered with Turkey Day since
then is something we all have to be thankful for.
November 11, 2010
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