By Rick Barber*
Have you ever wondered why it is that Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November? It is hard to believe that a day in which everyone is thankful for what they have could have been based on promoting American consumerism to boost the recovery from the Great Depression, but that is a small part of the holiday Thanksgiving that now is celebrated with turkey and watching football.
The first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution was on November 26, 1789. The first Federal Congress requested President George Washington enact a federal holiday for giving thanks, and the tradition continued, but the holiday was not always on a Thursday or even in the month of November. In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed that the holiday would be on the last Thursday in November.
Fast forward to 1939. With the U.S. still recovering from the Great Depression, Thanksgiving happened to fall on the last day of the month. President Roosevelt felt that this could hurt the U.S. economy since the Christmas shopping season would be shorter, so he had Thanksgiving day pushed back to the second to last Thursday of the month. 32 states accepted the change while 16 did not, so for 2 years the nation celebrated split Thanksgivings. To end the confusion, the House of Representatives passed a joint resolution on October 6, 1941, that made the last Thursday in November the official holiday, but the Senate amended the resolution to be the fourth Thursday in the month to account for months with five Thursdays. FDR signed this resolution on December 26, 1941.
In addition to the federal law concerning Thanksgiving, three states (Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island) have “blue laws” which date to the Colonial period and affect business’s ability to operate on the national holiday. These laws apply to large retailers and their ability to be open on national holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the laws also apply to other holidays like Easter and Veteran’s Day as well as Sundays. With consumers using holiday specials to increase their spending, retailers have been opening their stores earlier and giving better discounts to customers who are starting their holiday shopping earlier. Certain types of permits are required in order for businesses to be open on these holidays, but in instances where an employee works on a holiday they are entitled to the overtime premium, which is time and one half.
Although Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are the only three states that have blue laws that affect retailers, most states have some sort of “Sunday law” that regulates the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Business such as bars, restaurants, and gas stations are subject to restrictions that include not being able to open before 12:00 p.m. or not being able to sell alcohol at all. In Texas, the laws distinguish between “liquor” and “beer and wine” because both categories are governed by different sets of statutes. Liquor must be sold in specialized stores that are separate from another business and cannot be open on Sundays, legal holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as before 10:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. among other regulations. Beer and wine sales are much simpler and can be purchased any day of the week as long as the sale falls within the times outlined in the codes outlined by the state. The purpose of these laws is to show reverence to religious holy days and allows workers to spend time with their loved ones. For those that want to claim this violates the Establishment Clause and the violation of church and state, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of these blue laws in McGowan v. Maryland on the grounds that a secular common day of rest would benefit everyone.
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