Note: I originally wrote this article years ago on my old blog, but found it still timely. So, I dusted it off and expanded it some for the holiday.
It’s no longer a surprise that as soon as Halloween ends, with its own gala of ghoulish scares and costume delight, we then step into the realm of a holiday that seems to grow less in importance each year. Please don’t take this wrong — I personally love this autumnal celebration. As I grew past my teen years (centuries ago…), I gravitated away from the natural, kid-friendly time of Christmas as my favorite and toward Thanksgiving. Getting together on the fourth Thursday in November at my grandmother’s home with family members, stuffing my face with the traditional food (along with our own cultural fare), remains a very sweet memory.
Is it just me, or is the Thanksgiving holiday relatively ignored outside of family units these days? Save for the retailers, that is. Needless to say, that’s only due to what comes the day after, Black Friday. The few exceptions, maybe, would be The Food Channel and grocery stores, for obvious reasons. In recent years, Halloween has grown with retail store chains for the stuff (costumes, confections, and decorations) that can be marketed and sold to the masses. We need not mention the horror movies and disc releases scheduled for maximum sale potential. You barely get past Labor Day and the All Hallows Eve trimmings are already in the store aisles. I’m okay with that, but does it have to be at the cost of what follows just because there’s less merchandising to be had? Hmm…
☞ Quick! Name a favorite Thanksgiving-themed movie of yours. Hard to do, huh?
Of course, Christmas time remains the tent-pole holiday season for most vendors — most still depend upon that festival to make their fiscal year a happy one (the amount of joy to be had this year is still on life support for many). In fact, if you looked around early in October, you’d have spotted the Christmas merchandise garnering floor space in preparation to that make-or-break period (to the chagrin of many a parent, I might add). With these two holidays bracketing it, Thanksgiving gets short shrift. I’m not the only one to have these thoughts, either.
As well, this particular holiday rarely lands on the same date from the previous year. While it’s always a Thursday, it’s that fluidity (along with a sense of gratitude), that marks it as something different entirely from its year-end holiday brethren. That aspect is subject to familial pressure, too.
Perhaps, that is why each Thanksgiving varies so for its participants. Along with this simple but dynamic fact: families change. Siblings grow older (more mellow or sour), grandparents and parents pass away, members move, and your children mature at an alarming rate (to name only a few of the evolutions). It makes me recall the old children’s nursery rhyme, “Monday’s child is fair of face…“:
Thursday’s child has far to go
Possibly, this is why anxiety levels rise for a number of families as the holiday presents itself. Coming together is never easy. And Thanksgiving marks time almost as well as the leaves of the Fall turning colors. The other reality about it, as my blogging colleague Jamie Helton noted this week:
“Thanksgiving is one of the biggest times for people to go to the theater in the United States…”
Thus, movies are another attribute of this holiday. However, comparatively fewer films actually spotlight this specific time. When I think about my favorite films for this day of observance, I found they tend to be those that are reflective of the time that is passing through and of family.
Just about anyone who has viewed American television and its news broadcasts has watched this annual scene repeated across the nation’s airports: anxious travelers standing in long lines, waiting to get home for Turkey Day. I refer you to the John Hughes‘ 1987 movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as a good reference point for this yearly trial by fire:
Let me make this clear: I’ve never had to do this. However, friends of mine swear by this film and the trauma of travel during this period. Perhaps, those that read this can expound on their Thanksgiving journeys home and the travails they’ve had to endure. Still, this film reminds me of my favorite story in Greek mythology — Homer’s poem The Odyssey. No matter what, there is a perseverance and spirit here in this one. No matter what, our modern Odysseus (Steve Martin, with the help of John Candy) must find his way home.
Next, recall this Robert Frost quote:
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
No greater truth lies in this post, I think. You see, for some, it’s not the air travel that’s gets those arriving home upset. It’s knowing that when they get there, they’re going to have to deal with their family after they get there. Unfortunately, between my family and one I married into, I’ve got loads of ammo regarding this one — see director Jodie Foster‘s 1995 Home for the Holidays film for a good primer on this feast day issue:
Love them or not, you are ultimately stuck with your family. So, the words of my high school biology teacher are most fitting.
“Choose your parents wisely.”
Finally, I must include in this list Wes Anderson’s fantastic 2009 stop-motion animation film, Fantastic Mr. Fox. I doubt the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel was intended as Thanksgiving fare, but I can’t think of a better one for children and adults alike on this day (it’s now become a holiday tradition in my house). This one nails the vibe of family, our natures as flawed but wondrous creatures so succinctly that it remains a joy to watch again and again. If this holiday can be stressful, it is this playful film that sets it right.
All of these are surprisingly touching movies that will bring me, and the rest of my small clan, back to the same table for yet another grateful gathering. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.