Thanksgiving began as an autumn harvest feast and has been celebrated for hundreds of years. The holiday gives us a chance to reunite with family, enjoy a traditional meal, and express gratitude, although nowadays, it is also associated with parades, football, Black Friday shopping, and kicking off the holiday season.
If you’re curious about time-honored Thanksgiving traditions or want to navigate the holiday legally, keep reading to discover some interesting laws and legislation surrounding Thanksgiving.
1. Thanksgiving wasn’t always on the fourth Thursday in November.
Throughout history, Thanksgiving has been held on various days. In fact, President James Madison proclaimed two Thanksgivings in 1815, one in the spring and one in the fall. In both 1939 and 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving on the third Thursday in November, in order to lengthen the shopping season for Depression-era retailers.
Roosevelt’s proclamation proved controversial, with some states continuing to celebrate on the fourth Thursday of the month. In 1941, Congress put an end to “Franksgiving” by passing a joint resolution that officially established the date of Thanksgiving.
2. One lucky turkey escapes its fate every year.
It is now a well-established tradition that the President is gifted and subsequently pardons a turkey every Thanksgiving. There are conflicting stories about the origins of the turkey pardon, because the tradition of presenting the President with a turkey goes way back.
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln spared a Christmas turkey that his son took a liking to, but it wasn’t until 100 years later that President John F. Kennedy spared the first Thanksgiving turkey. The first president to issue a formal pardon to the turkey was George H.W. Bush during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden in 1989.
3. Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner? Plan ahead.
If you’re hosting or attending a Thanksgiving dinner, keep in mind that many states have laws against selling liquor on Thanksgiving (as well as on Sundays and other major holidays).
Some states have more lenient liquor laws, such as Alabama, where you can purchase beer and wine, but not spirits, on Thanksgiving. States such as Kansas and Oklahoma are stricter. In fact, they still have not passed the Twenty-first Amendment which repealed the nationwide prohibition in 1933.
4. Cleaning the house before your in-laws arrive?
In Pennsylvania, it’s against the law to sweep dirt and dust under a rug, while in New York City, you cannot shake a dust mop out of a window.
5. Keep this law in mind if you run out of wine glasses.
In Topeka, Kansas, it’s against the law to serve wine in teacups. This mainly applies to restaurants, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
6. Do you top your pie with a scoop of ice cream?
If you like your pie served with a scoop of ice cream, be sure to eat it with a spoon in Rosemead, California, because ice cream cannot be eaten with a fork.
7. Ready to reheat Thanksgiving leftovers?
Your family may be unable to polish off the entire Thanksgiving meal. If you have leftovers, remember that in Redwood City, California, gravy cannot be fried.
8. Interested in alternative energy sources?
Due to their sizable turkey farming industry, the states of North Carolina and Minnesota have mandated utility plants to use a small amount of turkey waste to generate some of their power.
9. No Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving Day in Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island.
In these states, most retailers are prohibited from opening their doors on Thanksgiving. Blue laws like this were first passed in the colonial era to encourage people to attend church on Sundays and holidays. They have remained in place to urge people to spend time with their families on Thanksgiving Day.
One notable exception is in Maine, where any store over 5,000 sq. ft. must remain closed—except for the L.L. Bean outlet. A loophole in the law allows sporting goods stores to open their doors on Thanksgiving.
The Letter of the Law
It’s interesting to think about the origins of the laws and legislation enacted for Thanksgiving, or even those that concern the holiday. Perhaps these weird and interesting laws will be a conversation piece as you and your family enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie topped with ice cream this Thanksgiving.