Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

A Revisit: What Is It With Thanksgiving?

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.


Want to share some of your own? Please do… just make sure you bring those wonderful yams I love with the marshmallows on to top.

12 Responses to “A Revisit: What Is It With Thanksgiving?”

  1. Jeff

    As Loudon Wainwright once sang, “Suddenly it’s Christmas/Right after Halloween/Forget about Thanksgiving/It’s just a buffet in between…”

    To your list, I would add “Hannah and Her Sisters,” which is built around three different Thanksgiving Day celebrations. All these years later, still my favorite Woody Allen movie.

    Have a wonderful day!

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    • le0pard13

      Great reference to that Loudon Wainwright song, Jeff. And I’d have forgotten that Woody Allein was built around this holiday. Good addition. Thanks for adding this.

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  2. Jamie Helton

    Thanks for the shout-out!

    I agree that Thanksgiving is largely ignored as a holiday unto itself. It’s thought of as the day to prepare for massive shopping, a day of watching parades on TV (does anyone do that anymore?), a day of watching football on TV, and a day of gorging on turkey and stuffing. Is the meaning of Thanksgiving even present anymore? The reason it’s a national holiday is that it’s a day to be thankful for 1) the country’s existence and 2) everything good in your life, especially family. Somehow, it’s become a minor holiday that’s just an excuse for a long weekend.

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    • le0pard13

      Glad to do it, Jamie. Yours was a fun post.

      And you give a very keen consideration to what this holiday has turned into. It’s all, unfortunately, very true. Thanks very much.

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  3. J.D.

    Good call on HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. Easily my fave Thanksgiving themed film. It’s an annual ritual to watch it on Thanksgiving.

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  4. Castor

    I’m blaming retailers for Thanksgiving decline. It’s becoming such a huge commercial holiday that the spirit behind the day is quickly fading. A couple years down the road, we will probably see malls and stores remaining open just like on Easter. It’s sad :(

    In any case. Happy thanksgiving weekend Michael! :)

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  5. Novroz

    nice post, Mike. I don’t know any thanksgiving movie because I never celebrate it. I do know many Christmas movies eventhough I don’t celebrate it either. Christmas is more famous, I supposed.

    happy thanksgiving to you. In my religion, we have something like forgiveness day.

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    • le0pard13

      Yes, Christmas is covered much more in film compared to this. I’d like to learn more about your religion’s day of forgiveness. I hope you write about it. Thank you very much, Novroz.

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  6. rtm

    Sorry I missed this wonderful post. You’re right there aren’t too many Thanksgiving movies but Planes, Trains, and Automobiles always comes to mind. I think it will be a classic for many years to come. I’m thankful for ‘knowing’ you through my blog, Michael, thanks again for your wonderful comments and amazing contributions to FlixChatter!

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    • le0pard13

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Ruth. You have a wonderful blog and I’m very happy to read and interact with the community you’ve built with it. Like you, it is special.

      Regarding P,T, & A, I screened it for my kids this holiday and they loved it. As they watched and enjoyed the film, they asked why it was rated R. Then, we came to that classic car rental desk scene and they immediately understood ;-).

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