Be a Know-it-all at Dinner with These Thanksgiving Law Facts

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As you get ready to depart for Thanksgiving, why not take some of your free time to learn a little bit about the laws surrounding this holiday?

Here are a few fun legal facts about Thanksgiving to help you through awkward small talk around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

How Thanksgiving Landed on the Fourth Thursday

Three of the most prominent Presidents in American history, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, all contributed to Thanksgiving’s place in federal law. The holiday’s initial appearance in the annals of law was the result of a resolution passed by the first Federal Congress in 1789 for President George Washington to declare a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.” He proclaimed November 26, a Tuesday, as a day of national thanksgiving for the U.S. Constitution.

It was not until 1863, however, that the modern holiday was celebrated nationally. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation officially declaring that the last Thursday in November as a day of “thanksgiving and praise.”

In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month, which would shorten the Christmas shopping season — possibly causing fewer people to lose their minds from the constant influx of holiday music.

FDR wouldn’t have it and issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change, dubbing the new holiday “Franksgiving” and proclaiming the true Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For the next two years, President Roosevelt repeated the unpopular proclamation and two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving.

Congress decided to settle things once and for all with a fixed-date for the holiday. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day, and the Senate amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. FDR signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

This year we can be thankful that the only disagreement will be over who gets the last drumstick.

Shoppers Sing the (Sober) Blues

Care more about Black Friday shopping than Turkey Day itself?

Shopaholics in Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts will have to wait for their shopping fix. In fact, it’s the law. Blue laws in these states prohibit most retail stores from opening on Thanksgiving — even grocery stores.

The rules vary among the states. For instance, retailers less than 5,000 square feet can operate in Maine. Convenience stores are also generally allowed to open, as are movie theaters, pharmacies, restaurants, and some other businesses. Retail alcohol sales remain barred on Thanksgiving Day in Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Texas so either plan ahead or learn to handle screaming kids and nosy in-laws with liquid assistance.

Turkey Innovation

Let us not forget the intellectual property of turkeys. After all, what better way to celebrate a holiday than reading patents appropriate for the festivities?

While the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t exactly track the growth in turkey innovation, dozens of inventors hold patents on a range of turkey themed gadgets and processes.

IP Watchdog has compiled some of the more notable ones, including this frightening remote controlled turkey decoy, this Turkey decoration that seems like a sneaky way to hide your leftover Halloween pumpkins, these toy turkeys made out of a pine cones, this collapsible hunting blind that resembles a 6 foot tall turkey plastered onto a giant umbrella laid on its side, or even this ornamental design for a turkey hunter’s safety placard named “Mr. Cautious Tom” whose tail feathers are emblazoned with the word “Hunter” and whose ascot is labelled “Caution.”

In fact, Thanksgiving leftovers even lead to the invention of LASIK eye surgery. One turkey innovator was sitting at the dinner table with his family on Thanksgiving in 1981 when he realized that leftover turkey bone cartilage would provide the perfect test subject. On November 27, 1981, his team used a laser to etch on the turkey’s cartilage in a way that could be viewed when placed under an optical microscope — leading to the invention of LASIK.

Turkey wishbones, too, have been subject to intellectual property law disputes. In 2010, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was sued for copyright infringement for producing wishbones similar to those  designed, copyrighted, and produced by Lucky Break Wishbone. The court found that the plastic replicas were copyrightable because the wishbones were designed using graphite electrodes to make it smooth and “attractive and sleek” with thinner arms and more rounded edges – making them worth $1.7 million in damages.

Some states have even passed laws requiring utilities to convert turkey waste into energy. In light of prolific turkey farming, North Carolina, and Minnesota have both passed energy policy mandates requiring utilities to use a small amount of turkey waste-generated power. Minnesota currently has a 55-megawatt power plant designed to burn poultry waste as its primary fuel that can power  44,000 homes with 100 daily truckloads of this turkey litter. A new North Carolina plant will reportedly be the first facility designed to run on 100% turkey waste which will use 55,000 tons of turkey litter a year to produce the equivalent of 95 million kilowatt hours of electricity and feed that renewable electricity back to the grid.

One law professor took to full legal analysis of the Law of the Turkey. Claiming that nearly all contract law concepts can be learned with turkey cases. Professor Meredith R. Miller expanded this idea to cover criminal law, tort law, and just about everything else.

In Turkeys, Oral Contracts, and Mr. Gouge and Turkeys, Damages, and Alternative Damages, she recounts the many ways turkey contracts can possibly go awry. In her casebook proposal for The Modern Law of the Turkey (which I really hope comes to fruition), the chapter on Turkeys and Torts tells a tale of a Wal-Mart shopper being knocked unconscious by frozen turkeys.

Thanksgiving truly holds a little something for everyone. Be thankful.

Featured image: “Thanksgiving background. Autumn fruit with Thanksgiving letters. Thanksgiving dinner ” from Shutterstock.

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