Was your family celebrating a Democratic or a Republican Thanksgiving in 1939? Did they sit down for the annual turkey-day feast on Nov. 23 or Nov. 30?

It was a real quandary across the country that year when there were two dates for the holiday. In fact, when Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Nov. 23 to be the official national day of Thanksgiving, about half the states in the nation, including staunchly Republican Maine, opted to ignore the one-week-earlier change and stayed with the traditional date on the last Thursday of November.

In Lewiston-Auburn it looks like few families paid much attention to the government’s meddling with our uniquely New England customs. Certainly Massachusetts was not going to alter the celebration tied so closely to the Pilgrim experience in that state. Abraham Lincoln had proclaimed that the last Thursday of November would be “a day of thanksgiving and praise” in 1861.

FDR’s proposal, handed down in early fall of 1939, provided plenty of fodder for jokes. The early version of Thanksgiving was derisively called “Franksgiving Day,” and ultimately 23 states held to the last-Thursday custom.

A look through the pages of the Lewiston Daily Sun in November 1939 showed that Thanksgiving late in the month was the overwhelmingly popular choice. Two full pages were packed with listings of L-A families and their holiday dinner guests. Hundreds more dinner parties were noted in area town columns. Only one small item indicated that a Lewiston woman had planned to observe Thanksgiving on both dates.

There were a couple of instances in which L-A residents might have felt some slight effect of the double-date timing. Local banks were obliged to run ads on Nov. 22 reminding customers that banks had to close on Nov. 23, 1939, because it had been declared a federal holiday.

And, in a special ad, New England Telephone and Telegraph took notice of the fact that families in Maine might have out-of-state relatives who would be dining on their turkeys a week earlier. NET&T reminded them to make their long-distance calls on the right day.

Around the Twin Cities, there were lots of events taking place on Nov. 30, 1939. The 48th annual Auburn Firemen’s entertainment and ball was held at Auburn Hall with Rafnell’s New Georgians. It was to be followed by a midnight dance until 5 a.m. with the Lloyd Rafnell Orchestra.

The Elm Hotel in Auburn and Steckino’s Liberty Café in Lewiston offered turkey or chicken dinners for 75 cents to $1. Three other establishments, also now gone from L-A, were the Mirimar at Young’s Corner, Auburn; Hayes Diner on Park Street, Lewiston, opposite the Sun Journal building; and Paul’s Café at 52 Oxford St., where the price of the holiday dinner was 35 cents.

The earlier date for the 1939 holiday was a boost for what was to be known as “Black Friday.” Businesses were beginning a recovery from the Great Depression decade, and Christmas advertisements already had been appearing for a few weeks. It was a request from an official of the National Retail Dry Goods Association that led to FDR’s proclamation.

Peck’s department store, called Merry Christmas City, was preparing for the arrival of Santa by airplane at Garcelon Field. MGM’s now-classic film “The Wizard of Oz” was a nationwide sensation, and it was to be the parade theme. Ste. Marie’s Cadets, a 60-member drum and bugle corps, would march with Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and other Oz residents. There would be clowns, archers, cowboys, Uncle Sam and many others. Toyland at Peck’s included a “Magic Munchkin Manor,” a model railroad yard, a “mysterious Hall of Science,” a game preserve, a furniture mart and a doll land.

In 1939, Maine Gov. Lewis O. Barrows had declared Roosevelt’s proposal “outrageous.” He said, “the president may make any proclamation he desires for the District of Columbia regarding the observance of Thanksgiving Day, but we in Maine will continue to have our Thanksgiving the same time as we have down through the years.”

His righteous indignation was hailed by Mainers, but just so there’s no confusion this year, the fourth Thursday of November, Nov. 27, is going to be Thanksgiving Day 2014. It just happens to also be this month’s last Thursday.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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