This week, my son’s kindergarten had a Thanksgiving gathering in their classroom along with the class across the hall. Families were invited. The kids made butter, and they had cornbread, popcorn, slivers of pie, and sparkling cider. We listened to the teacher’s aide read us a book about thankfulness, and the kids went around the table saying what they were thankful for. (Simon said, “Mom and Dad,” which was very sweet and makes me wonder what he would’ve said if I hadn’t been there listening.) And there was absolutely no discussion of why we celebrate. There were no pilgrims, though there were turkey hats.
Tomorrow, I’ll show him my traditional Thanksgiving fare. WKRP in Cincinnati, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and as much Mystery Science Theater 3000 as we can take. (New season comes out tomorrow, too!) And that’s great; I don’t actually expect a five-year-old to sit through anything heavier than that. But I do think it’s interesting that Thanksgiving misses out on the movie train. It’s an indoor holiday, like Christmas, and one where you’d theoretically want something to do if you, oh, don’t like your family or football, but there have never really been a lot of Thanksgiving movies.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect a serious movie about how the settlers and the Native Americans actually interacted. Even just the knowledge that their settlement was as successful as it was because they were conveniently somewhere an entire village had died from disease is a bit intense, for a holiday movie. (Though I would honestly watch the hell out of a Squanto’s Tale that leaned into that sort of thing. I haven’t seen the actual one that got made.) I do think, though, that filmmakers looking for weighty material that hasn’t been mined to death might think about looking at the early colonial era.
On the other hand, if I were a filmmaker, there’s something from my own experience that might make a decent Thanksgiving movie. When I was in seventh grade, my aunt decided to host Thanksgiving dinner for our family, but she worked in a way that basically meant that hardly any of the family could actually go. So my family took a road trip for the day instead, ending up in Ventura, walking on a cold and windy beach. Imagery from that day has stuck with me ever since. And there’s something deeply pleasant about how my nuclear family, which doesn’t always get along, really fought to connect in an us-versus-Aunt Jane sort of way.
There aren’t movies about awkward Thanksgiving dinners, or anyway not many of them. If people are going to do awkward family dinner movies, they do Christmas instead. Mythologizing the holiday? Christmas. Legends and fantasies? Christmas. And so on. And I suppose Christmas, in these days of Worrying About Foreign Markets, has a wider appeal than Thanksgiving, which is an American holiday that we haven’t exported much. (I mean, Canada has Thanksgiving, too, but I don’t know about any other countries.) But there aren’t even any classic Thanksgiving movies from the ’50s, that I know of, and that’s a little more odd.
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