There are plenty of holiday movies. We have Halloween classics ranging from the terrifying Halloween to the not-so terrifying Halloweentown series–we have Christmas movies everywhere from It’s a Wonderful Life to the not entirely Christmasy Die Hard (which is my second favorite Christmas movie).
As the Holiday season keeps getting moved up the calendar every year, it creates a sad, awkward gap–Thanksgiving. Can you, off the top of your head, think of a Thanksgiving movie? There are none that immediately stand out, none that ABC points to for a five-hour marathon; none that say to this country this is what Thanksgiving means to all of us.
How is such a popular and widely celebrated holiday cinematically ignored? While a lot of movies that have Thanksgiving in them, they are never really about the holiday. Movies like The Big Chill or Hannah and Her Sisters are more about what happens when you gather a bunch of emotionally close people together in a house for a few days.
Maybe it’s because both Halloween and the Winter holidays are less connected to a concrete history but in our modern era is more attached to fantastical myths and emotions; Maybe it’s because the Holidays cover a lot of the same themes as Thanksgiving like connecting with family and mass quantities of food. It might be because Thanksgiving’s history is built upon colonization, bloodshed, and historical erasure.
When the history of a holiday is built on one of our nation’s ugliest chapters, it is hard to sit through A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and not question why we tell ourselves the same false narrative every year. It’s even harder to watch Steve Martin struggle to get home in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles without wondering if this whole holiday is really worth it. Every year, millions of Americans sit in traffic, through flight delays, and through utterly banal family conversation for what, a chance to sit around the table and celebrate white supremacy?
If we had a weeklong ABC Thanksgiving film marathon, we as a nation would most likely hate ourselves at the end of it. If we had to watch cutesy, Rankin and Bass-style Holiday Specials about the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth or the story of Pocahontas at Jamestown, we would have to take a good, hard look at ourselves and realize that Thanksgiving is a terrible holiday, and that we are all terrible people for celebrating it.
It is probably for the best that there is a dearth of Thanksgiving movies. As a society, we feel the need to keep this tradition alive, and watching movies that could define what Thanksgiving really means works against that. The reason we don’t have Thanksgiving movies is because the powers that be want us to keep on celebrating white supremacy with football games, family gatherings, and a big ol’ Turkey. Giving us the privilege to make history fantasty to forget that Thanksgiving was never about the Pilgrims and “Indians” coming together it was about colonists giving thanks to their god when they thought that he was proving their superiority.
To keep ourselves from reminding ourselves of these facts and uprooting this whole tradition we’ve been pushing Christmas farther and farther into November every year. Maybe this is the death knell for America’s most useless Holiday (with the exception of Groundhog Day) but until then, there is only one answer to the Thanksgiving question, and that is Nightmare Before Christmas, a movie that takes the best parts of the best Holidays and ignores the awkward time between them.