For many, the November Thanksgiving weekend is considered just the kickoff celebration for the Shopping Season, the start of the holidays. Perhaps because it’s become so linked with the rest of the winter holidays (and it’s a US-specific holiday, after all), it somewhat lacks its own identity in movies and TV. Indeed, while some TV shows will churn out holiday specials for everything from Arbor Day to Halloween, there aren’t many that want to take on Thanksgiving – and perhaps they don’t even get a chance to, since most stations take that week to start the wave of Christmas-themed movies.
However, there are a handful of TV shows and movies that do deal, specifically, with Thanksgiving – the holiday where we’re inclined to seek out the company of our loved ones, where the history is sketchy at best, where we’re at our most materialistic and gluttonous, and sometimes, our most sincere. This is not a complete list, by any means, but it’s some of my favorites.
5. Miracle on 34th Street
Yes, most think of this as a Christmas movie, but it begins with the Thanksgiving staple, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The old dude who sits on the float and pretends to be Santa is completely smashed; where can we find a replacement? The surprisingly funny and irreverent setup begins a tale that is more about the innocence and magic of a child’s world than anything preachy.
4. Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Since Thanksgiving often involves people of all ages, sometimes it’s nice to have a family-friendly special on-hand. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving isn’t one of the best-known Peanuts specials, but it’s not without its own classic moments. When Peppermint Patty invites herself and most of the rest of the neighborhood to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving dinner, he’s overwhelmed in a way that many of us can relate to (All I can make it cold cereal, and maybe toast!). One I particularly like because it demonstrates that family doesn’t have to mean blood relation.
3. “Pangs,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This episode, from what I consider a classic season of Buffy, tackles all the major Thanksgiving themes: history, family, and unreasonable expectations. An angry Chumash Indian spirit has risen to right the wrongs against his people. It’s kind of a weird one to watch completely stand-alone (lots of Angel drama going on) but it’s still utterly enjoyable. And Xander gets syphillis!
2. Addams Family Values
Technically this movie is set mostly in the summer months; Wednesday and Pugsley are sent to summer camp, and the end-of-camp play is about the first Thanksgiving. Naturally, the pretty, popular blonde children are cast as the Pilgrims, and the misfits are cast as the Indians. Wednesday stages an unbelievably hilarious coup, which contains one of my favorite Thanksgiving-themed lines: “I am a turkey. Eat me!” The rest of the movie is entertaining as well, but it’s the storyline of the children, and their Thanksgiving feast, that makes this movie memorable.
1. “Turkeys Away,” WKRP in Cincinnati
Okay, this one might be before your time (heck, it’s before my time!) but it’s one that is worth looking up (available free on Hulu). Arthur Carlson, the station manager for WKRP, comes up with an exciting surprise Thanksgiving promotion. A reporter is placed on-site to give a live description… and the rest is TV history. Like, say, the original Star Trek, it might be a little outdated, but it holds its own surprisingly well, and it’s just one of those pop-culture moments. You’ll never look at bags of wet cement the same way again.
I know I undoubtedly left out the favorites of some people… and I want to hear about them! Leave a comment and tell me about your favorite Thanksgiving moments in film and TV. Alternatively, what non-Thanksgiving-themed movies are a holiday tradition for you?