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What’s Cooking Wednesday: Truman and the no-turkey Thursday

President Truman receives a turkey from Sen. Olin Johnston of South Carolina in the Oval Office, 11/25/1946 (ARC 199535)

What do you if you love Thanksgiving but it falls on a day when you can’t eat turkey? In 1947, President Truman faced an awkward dilemma.

Truman took up the office of President during World War II, but even after the war ended, the plight of the Europeans was on his mind. Americans were still urged to conserve food so that more could be sent to the hungry and needy in a war-devastated Europe.

Part of this effort involved not eating poultry on Thursdays. Of course, this presented a problem for President Truman on the fourth Thursday of November in 1947.

Certainly, Truman could have tried a drastic move and declared Thanksgiving to be held that Friday instead. However, Thanksgiving had barely recovered from a firestorm of controversy that started in 1939.

Before that fateful Thursday in 1939, the American people had followed the 1863 proclamation of Abraham Lincoln and faithfully celebrated a day of Thanksgiving on the last week of November. But in 1939, President Roosevelt had attempted to move the date up by a week to the fourth Thursday. It was a disaster, with 32 states accepting the date change and 16 states refusing. For two years, there were two Thanksgivings on two different Thursdays.

Having the entire country disagree over when to celebrate the national holiday was obviously not going to work out, and Congress stepped in. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate amended the resolution to make the holiday the fourth Thursday (since November can sometimes have five Thursdays).  The House agreed, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941.

This tug-of-war between White House and the American people must have been at the back of Truman’s mind as he faced the problem of the poultry-less Thursday. In the end, the President made an executive decision. He did not eat a turkey on Thanksgiving.

As you see from the menu below, the Trumans simply ate their Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings on Wednesday night instead.

White House Thanksgiving dinner menu for Wednesday, November 26, 1947. From the Truman Presidential Library.

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