By Dan Ford
Thanksgiving is traditionally on the fourth Thursday of November. That date was established by Congress in December, 1941. What does that have to do with New Mexico sports you may ask?
First of all, many people, especially those of us in the southwest, consider the first celebration to be on May 23, 1541 when the explorer Coronado feasted with the Teya Indians in Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas. Of course, the rest of the nation considers 1621 and the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock to have invented the holiday.
George Washington declared a national day of thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday of November in 1789. But it didn’t become a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed such in 1863. The last Thursday of November was in cement, a date to be honored forever. Well, until 1939.
It was inappropriate and bad form to advertise Christmas or put up any decorations until after thanksgiving was over. To help with Christmas sales President Franklin Roosevelt decided to move the holiday back a week as a small token to assist depression-plagued merchants.
You think Republicans and Democrats find the smallest of issues with which to argue, try to change a revered holiday. The next-to-last Thursday of 1939 was the 23rd. 26 states (Republican-controlled) decided to stick with the 23rd. 19 states (Democrats) celebrated on the 30th. Three states actually celebrated both dates. New Mexico and Texas both chose the 30th.
This caused confusion, especially among colleges that crossed state lines for Thanksgiving Day games. Saying it would be played on Thanksgiving Day wasn’t clear enough.
In New Mexico, all traditional high school rivalries were played on Thanksgiving Day. Raton/Dawson, Aztec/Farmington, Santa Fe/St. Michaels, Clovis/Portales and several others closed their seasons with that big game. Confusion among these schools wreaked havoc on the schedule. Schedules were not put together until the beginning of the football season.
In 1940 and 1941 everybody fell in line with “Franksgiving” and federal offices were closed on the next-to-last Thursday. But at the end of 1941 the dispute was settled when Congress pass the law that it would be honored on the 4th Thursday in November, even though some years would have five Thursdays. (I find this odd since December 7, 1941 and Pearl Harbor seems like it would have heaped a lot more important issues on the desks of our congressmen.) The date of Thanksgiving continues today to be the fourth Thursday of November. However, as we all know, that doesn’t prevent advertisers from tempting our consumer habits prior to turkey day.
In 1944 Clovis and Portales were still unsure. They had each penciled in a different date for their Thanksgiving Day game. As the date approached they realized they had erred. One team had scheduled another opponent. The game, played every Thanksgiving Day since 1915, was not played in 1944.
Rivalries continued until the advent of the playoff system in 1953, requiring everybody to roll back their schedules to end the regular season in early November to make way for a semi-final game and a state championship game on Thanksgiving weekend.