While we are in the midst of the holiday season, let us take time to reflect. During the month of November, we have the fact that Christmas is coming force fed into our cakeholes with all the delicacy of an asphalt smasher on the freeway. Christmas is definitely coming; I have a calendar so I know with exacting exactness that it will definitely fall sometime between the 22nd and the 30th of December yet again this year. Beyond that, you’re on your own.
Now this week brings the great holiday of Thanksgiving, a holiday that somehow has managed to shove being thankful right off the table together with the good china, allowing the bullying turkey and general large amounts face-stuffing to usurp the familial atmosphere. Of course, given whatever your familial atmosphere is at the present time, a nice plate of sweet potatoes might be exactly what you need instead of listening to Uncle Roy talk yet again about how he could have been a major league ballplayer for the Cleveland Indians if he hadn’t screwed up his rotator cuff while hitting mailboxes off of their posts with a broken piece of rebar back in 1971. Ah, family!
Thanksgiving manages to get lost in the shuffle of holidays this time of year. It seems like as soon as you’re taking down your Columbus Day decorations, you have to prepare for Presidents’ Day and Grandfather-In-Common-Law Sweetest Valentine’s Flag Day. It never ends! And look at the decorations that Thanksgiving is stuck with: a bunch of sad hand-me-downs from Halloween. Just put pilgrim hats on the jack o’ lanterns and display random leaves and corn stalks next to the skeletons in the yard and violà! Instant Thanksgiving decorations!
It doesn’t help that Thanksgiving is wedged between two of the greatest holidays for movies either. The blood that gushes from the volumes of Halloween horror movies hasn’t even coagulated before the numerous Christmas films skyrocket into play. This is sad of course, but Thanksgiving hasn’t done itself any favors either. I mean how many Thanksgiving-related films can you think of right now? Well, take a moment, I’ll be back for your answer. Whew! I’m back! Still nothing? No worries! Allow me to throw some light on the topic that was thrust upon you without any prior consultation.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles actually does take place during Thanksgiving but couldn’t it have happened during Christmas instead? You don’t see them eat turkey or anything like that. John Candy never dresses up like a pilgrim at any point in the film. Granted, it is some of the best work that Candy and Steve Martin have ever done, but you could’ve just as easily switched the holidays and no one would have been the wiser.
Oddly enough, Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters is book-ended over the course of two years with Thanksgiving celebrations. (I’m sure there’s some smarmy comment in there about Woody Allen’s family, but I will digress just because I like his movies. So make like a turkey and get stuffed.) Again though, these dinners could have just been some family meals and/or get togethers instead of Thanksgiving because there’s nothing Thanksgiving-y in the film beyond the plate of turkey. I guess Allen thought that having to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah would have been too off-putting? Or he didn’t want to steal Fanny and Alexander’s framing device exactly. (Yes, that was for you film dorks out there. And yes, you’re welcome!)
What else is out there? The first two Rocky movies have Thanksgiving involved. But Stallone beating up Carl Weathers doesn’t really invoke warm turkey moments for me. Miracle on 34th Street actually starts up during Thanksgiving, but Christmas bullies its way into a plotline yet again so we forget about the first part of the movie. There’s Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale which has two things not going for it: no one had the interest to watch it in the first place and in the second place, no one even after reading this has felt the interest in seeing it either.
I think for most of us, the one Thanksgiving special that pops immediately to mind is A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. After previously milking Christmas and Halloween, the Peanuts gang would be placed into every single holiday in the calendar thereafter for eternity. I think that A Charlie Brown Kwanzaa came out in 2009 and Snoopy Come Home 2: The Quest for Guy Fawkes Day is in post-production now.
While not the cultural touchstone that was the first Charlie Brown Christmas special, the Thanksgiving special has managed to find an audience primarily for two reasons: 1) it is a Peanuts holiday special for fans that will watch anything with Snoopy in it and 2) it often is forced upon you in the DVD holiday set with the Halloween and Christmas specials.
I had the great opportunity to watch the Thanksgiving special for the seemingly seventeen thousand eight hundred and forty-fifth time the other day. My children are addicted to it and as it is better than watching them fight over who gets to be player 1 in some loud Nintendo game, I don’t have a problem tuning in either. This also means that I’ve had the chance to examine this film about as many times as Oliver Stone has run and rerun the Zapruder film ad infinitum.
Now with that entire prologue out of the way so I could have an excuse to do this, here are some observations about A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving that I’m going to throw out there for whatever reason. It will go down smooth, like a pint glass of your grandma’s turkey gravy. Enjoy!
Where’s Schroeder? Where’s Pig Pen? Where’s Violet? It doesn’t feel like a true Peanuts holiday special because these regular characters are nowhere to be found. Were they unlike the other kids in this special because they have parents that actually care about bringing them along for Thanksgiving? Speaking of which…
Lucy Van Pelt. Sure, she shows up in the beginning to steal the football away from Charlie Brown but then she just vanishes from the proceedings completely. Presumably she went with her family for Thanksgiving somewhere, right? Makes sense…but Linus is her brother. This must mean that the Van Pelts don’t really care about the well-being of Linus so he got left behind. How does that happen? My only guess is that his family needed a well-deserved break from Linus after having to endure all his Great Pumpkin nonsense last month.
As for that continual football swipe that sends Charlie Brown sailing through the air like a Macy’s parade balloon of failure each and every time, come on, Chuck! Next time use some cleats, make like Ty Cobb, and perforate that backbreaking troublemaking harpy!
Peppermint Patty calls up Charlie Brown and says that her dad said that it was okay to come over to the Brown residence for Thanksgiving. While putting aside the obvious that Patty probably asked her dad first then called up Chuck to tell him about it, can you imagine such an imposition? I could never get out of Thanksgiving with the family, especially at that age. Well, at least it will just be her coming over.
Oops! I spoke too soon! Now it is Patty and Marcie and Franklin?! And none of these kids have parents that will drag them over to some distant relation’s house on a 2.5 hour drive, listening to the dulcet tones of Kenny Loggins on the Light FM the entire way? They won’t experience a kitchen that is as humid as Laos due to the abundance of sweating, mouth-breathing people in an ever-increasingly confined space shared with an oven that’s as hot as an industrial forge going for hours on end? They won’t experience a random football game that everyone is watching but no one is invested in? I hate these kids for being this lucky.
Charlie Brown, faced with this dilemma, goes to the sage of advice that is Linus in order to get this all figured out. After all, the chances of a seven year old being able to cook a full blown turkey dinner without causing a fire or salmonella or fiery salmonella are slim to none. So Linus takes it upon himself to give orders to the family dog in order to get this improvised feast underway. Uh, what? Charlie gives power over to that pumpkin zealot Linus and the best he comes up with is having a beagle with a chef’s hat get a table and chairs set up, cook toast, and serve the dinner being assisted by a dim yellow bird. And yet…somehow this plan works!
Patty is having none of this as this meal of jelly beans and pretzel sticks are not the fare that a party crasher expects after imposing upon a fellow child with limited at best cooking skills during one of the most important holidays of the year. She is right in her mind since she is so oblivious to reality by this point. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t really have a father at the house from the start and just imagined one telling her that it was okay to go over for Thanksgiving. Perhaps she killed him and Marcie buried him in the basement for a future Peanuts Halloween special. Gosh, now that’s dark.
After coming to grips with the fact that she’s kind of a pushy brat, Patty sort of apologizes, but not really, and Charlie’s grandma somehow invites Linus, Patty, Marcie, Franklin, and Sally (where’s she been, besides not helping?) over for Thanksgiving. The bottom line: the Browns are a better family than the Van Pelts. Since they didn’t take Linus, apparently they also didn’t care about how he fended for himself on Thanksgiving Day.
That being said, maybe I’ve been mistaken. Maybe the Van Pelts followed the example of other parents and also left Lucy to her own devices as well! Linus managed to make the best of it by helping out Charlie Brown and gets ultimately rewarded by being included in the group going over to the Browns’ grandma’s condo for some mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. But Lucy was stuck at home, alone, friendless, crying, washing away her woes with a slug of Wild Turkey, the only turkey she could find. Eh, serves her right for the football shenanigans.
So after all of this hullabaloo, the kids are driven to Charlie Brown’s grandma’s place by a car that is apparently possessed by Herbie because I haven’t seen an adult during the entire runtime. (I haven’t even really heard that muted trumpet laden voice that passes for an adult either, aside from Charlie Brown’s grandma over the phone, but never mind since adults in this universe are only convenient when it comes to the kids having to answer questions in school or when buying gifts for little red-haired girls that won’t give you the time of the day even if you had a clock on your face.)
And as they drive away, Snoopy and Woodstock retreat to the Brown backyard where Snoopy emerges from his doghouse with…a full blown cooked turkey with all the trimmings and a pumpkin pie with whipped cream?! This entire meal of popcorn and toast could have been thwarted because the Brown beagle can concoct whole meals and have it turn out wonderfully?! So Charlie Brown went through this ulcer-inducing day of holiday frustration for nothing? Yep, that’s a typical family event all right.
Most disturbing of all is Woodstock being served turkey and eating it with relish. This means that Woodstock is a cannibal of the vilest sort. Sure he’s cute and flies upside down and has a nifty Guaraldi-penned theme song, but he’s no different than a soccer team in the Andes forced to make hard choices about their future menu selections.
With this all being said, I still like Thanksgiving. I haven’t given up on it. I know it gets smothered from the competition given by Halloween and Christmas, but it still is a time for family and getting together. It is a time for reflection and prayer. One realizes all the blessings that received in life and over the course of the past year. Yes, there are parades and food and football and Christmas breathing down your neck, but you can still show that you care about Thanksgiving.
That is unless you’re a Van Pelt of course. Then you just abandon your offspring and don’t care a lick.