Bud Kennedy

Texas had two Thanksgivings? Yes, we were stubborn turkeys

We’re ornery about everything in Texas.

Including Thanksgiving.

As late as 60 years ago, Texans dined twice on turkey dinners, because the Lone Star State celebrated Thanksgiving on a completely different day from the rest of America.

Until 1956, Texas’ official state Thanksgiving holiday was the last Thursday in November. In a year like 2018, that’s a week after the national holiday, which was originally cussed in Texas as a federal abomination.

In the newspapers, the two holidays were called “Texas Thanksgiving” and (President Franklin) “Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving.”

The Star-Telegram headlined: “Take Your Pick, 2 Days Slated for Thanksgiving.”

Stores and federal post offices closed on the federal holiday. But public schools and state colleges and offices closed the following week.

“Big business caused it,” an unnamed “woman shopper” complained in The Dallas Morning News.

Actually, politics caused it.

Back in 1939, Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, a Fort Worth Democrat, had declared Texas would continue to celebrate the last Thursday as Thanksgiving in the name of America’s “Pilgrim Fathers,” not switch the holiday along with the rest of the country to the previous Thursday.

The new, earlier holiday was derided as a business scheme and Roosevelt’s “New Deal Thanksgiving.”

“While much of the world is at war,” O’Daniel said, “ … we, the citizens of Texas, have so much for which we should be thankful, we can very well observe two days of thanksgiving.”

The double Thanksgivings came again in 1940 and 1941. Texas’ turkey breeders liked the extra sales.

Football also played a part. The 1939 college rivalry games, including the University of Texas-Texas A&M game, had already been scheduled on the last Thursday before Roosevelt’s proclamation.

Texas couldn’t afford to be thankful twice, because state workers wanted to take both holidays.

Still, the Texas Legislature bickered mightily over changing it.

State Rep. Calvin Matthew from Cuero, “turkey capital of the world,” fought hard to protect the bird business: “You’re cutting in half the number of turkeys we can sell.”

With civil rights and school desegregation both prominent issues, state Rep. James Cotten of Weatherford called for Texas to defend celebrating its own separate Thanksgiving as “states’ rights”: “It is a Texas tradition and a Texas holiday.”

Even in 1956, State Rep. Scott McDonald, a Fort Worth attorney, was making the same states’ rights argument.

“Don’t you think if Texas holds the line, the other states will come along with us?” he asked.

By then, Texas had celebrated a separate Thanksgiving seven times in the 17 years since 1939.

Finally, in May 1957, Gov. Price Daniel — a graduate of Fort Worth’s Central High School, now Paschal — signed a new set of Texas holidays into law, aligning the state and federal Thanksgiving.

In conservative Montague County, the Saint Jo Tribune complained that he “went Yankee.”

Texas and Washington still clash. But over football.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

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