By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
This week many of us gathered to share a meal or get together in the time-honored tradition of Thanksgiving. Food, football, card games, a nap, Black Friday shopping and more food are what most people would say characterizes this annual holiday. However, not many ever think about the impact of legislation on how or when we celebrate Turkey day.
Thanksgiving first shows up in recorded law in 1789. In fact, it was President George Washington that talked about having a formal day of national thanksgiving and declared that the observance would occur on Tuesday, November 26th. We’ve even had years when Thanksgiving was celebrated twice in one year or held on different days all together. So you might be wondering how we settled on Thursday.
In part, it can be traced back to an early version of Black Friday shopping. During the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, to increase the amount of Christmas season shopping for struggling retailers. So roughly, 2/3 of the nation celebrated it on the third Thursday of the month, and roughly a 1/3 of the country sat down to their Thanksgiving feast on a completely different day. In 1941, Congress decided that we would observe Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Yet, there are still laws on the books that impact Americans differently depending on where you reside in the nation.
For instance, there are three states in the country that have laws against stores being open on Thanksgiving Day. In Maine, Massachusetts or Rhode Island, there is no early shopping. Legislation in those states, known as Blue Laws, actually prevents most shopping on the actual Thanksgiving holiday.
In North Carolina and Minnesota utility plants are required to use a percentage of turkey waste to generate some of their power because of the large turkey farming industries in those states. Due to the volume of Minnesota’s that poultry waste in Minnesota has been converted as a fuel option capable of powering 44,000 homes with electricity.
Six years ago, Wisconsin had about 400 farms that raised and sold turkeys as a part of their operation. Today, the number of those farms have reduced significantly. And while many residents are familiar with the Butterball brand, Minnesota-based Jennie-O-Turkey has a large processing plant in northwestern Wisconsin and is a huge employer in the area. Jennie-O is a strong community partner and in 2016 provided donations to nearly 200 nonprofit organizations in Wisconsin and provided around 18,000 pounds of food to hunger relief agencies.
So, as we nestle into the holiday season, it is worthwhile to remember that civic engagement and legislation touches every facet of our lives, right down to the Thanksgiving turkey.