Thanksgiving has always been something of a mystery to me. As a Brit, I know the basics. I know it celebrates the Pilgrims sailing away from the motherland, only to name every town they founded after someplace British. I know about the turkey and the pumpkin pie, and I get the distinct impression these are not optional. I know there’s some kind of parade, the purpose of which isn’t quite clear, and that there are giant balloons, including the most terrifyingly enormous SpongeBob SquarePants known to humanity, and that’s more than enough for me.
Recently, though, I’ve managed to bolster my understanding of this day and these intriguing customs via extensive research. Mostly I’ve been streaming movie and television scenes relating to Thanksgiving, and I can confidently say that the holiday is as much about dressing oneself (and one’s offspring) in outlandish costumes and cooking a hugely elaborate meal from scratch, regardless of the cook’s talent or inclination (with the exception of the cranberry sauce, which should come wiggling out of a can) as those other things. Arguments and hilarious misunderstandings are to be expected over when and how to carve the turkey, exactly how much wine is too much, and who should bring the green bean salad. [Editor’s Note: Green bean salad. That’s so cute. She means green bean casserole.] The turkey must be dropped at least once—whether before, after, or during roasting—and if it doesn’t find its buttery, wily way to the floor, it will find its way onto someone’s head or lap. Indeed, food fights seem to be compulsory, even if they start “by accident.” And if everyone doesn’t need a nap after dinner—or, in some cases, before dinner—then it isn’t a proper Thanksgiving.
I’ve also come to understand that, in spite of those aforementioned disagreements—or perhaps precisely because of them—Thanksgiving truly is a special time to be grateful. After all, your relations may drive you crazy, but it’s a unique kind of crazy that only your family can manage. And isn’t that something special for which you ought to give thanks? Still aren’t feeling grateful? Take a twirl through the clips from stage and (mostly) screen that informed my understanding of your day of thanks. Trust me, you just may find some reasons to love the ones you’re with.—Carol Anne Grady
[Editor’s Note: If you like the clips below, there’s still time to bump the entire movie or episode to the top of your Netflix queue or put it in your Amazon video library so that this coming long weekend, when you’re approaching your 36th hour in close proximity to family, you can reach for these and find that perhaps you have a shared sense of humor, after all. Think of any Thanksgiving moments from stage or screen that you don’t see listed here? Let us know in a comment below.]
Everybody Loves Raymond
Debra keeps dropping the turkey.
Wow. Where to even begin? How about when everyone migrates from the dining table to the couch in front of the football game? Or when everyone’s favorite pointy-haired boy makes cranberry sauce à la Bart.
There are, admittedly, lots of memorable Friends Thanksgiving moments. I’m partial to several, including the one with Joey cavorting in his Thanksgiving pants and Monica dancing for Chandler with a turkey on her head.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
A classic, I’m told. If I had to choose a single scene from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving to watch, it would be Peppermint Patty complaining at the dinner table. But how can you not sit through the entire thing each year?
Don’t tell me you’d forgotten that it was Thanksgiving when Rocky and Adrian had their painfully awkward yet crushingly sentimental first date? (If you had, you’ve seriously got to stop everything and watch the early part of the movie where Paulie pushes Adrian and Rocky together by literally pushing the Thanksgiving turkey out the back door.)
The Gold Rush
Charlie Chaplin, in that inimitable way of his, dishes up an old boot for Thanksgiving dinner. (I love when he twirls the shoelace around his fork as thought it were a strand of spaghetti.)
Sorta impossible to get the pride-filled-turned-blood-spattered turkey carving scene from Little Fockers out of your mind once you’ve seen it.
Pieces of April
There’s an undercurrent, to put it mildy, of sadness throughout this movie. Yet the naive determination to make Thanksgiving dinner for her dysfunctional estranged family by the young Katie Holmes’s character is sorta sadly unreal in a very real way.
WKRP in Cincinnati
Only the dingbats at this small-time radio station could actually believe turkeys can fly.
The West Wing
“I love my country.” Those are the words uttered by President Bartlett in response to learning there’s a hotline staffed by experts to answer questions on how to safely cook a stuffed turkey in a scene from The West Wing. The episode arguably gets better, though, with the arrival of live turkeys awaiting the presidential pardon. (Seriously? I’ve never understood what the Oval Office has to do with sparing a turkey’s life.)
The first several minutes of this episode contain uninvited guests, unfaithfulness, unrequited love, parents behaving unbelievably badly, and unrealistic covers of songs by the tipsy and the out-of-tune. In other words, all the makings of a vintage Thanksgiving.
This bittersweet movie launches with back-to-back Thanksgiving dinner scenes. Neither one is forgettable.
The Blind Side
This feel-good film about family, togetherness, and thankfulness reminds us of the importance of being grateful for what we’ve got, especially in this turn-off-the-TV-and-say-grace Thanksgiving dinner scene.
Walk the Line
Cringe-inducing family confrontations that feel like a punch to the gut. That pretty much describes the Thanksgiving dinner to which Johnny Cash invited his father. We don’t see the food, but we certainly feel the emotions.
A potluck dinner with the gang at Cheers. Diana dressed as a pilgrim. A food fight. Pretty much the entire episode is a must-see.
Home for the Holidays
While attempting to carve the turkey, a floppy-haired Robert Downey Jr. from decades ago accidentally lands the hen in an in-law’s lap. Honestly? It’s the mother rushing off for baking soda that I find so endearing. [Editor’s Note: Some language in this scene isn’t suitable for children.]
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
There isn’t an actual Thanksgiving dinner scene in this film, but there is the moment at the end of the movie when Neal is finally on his way home to his wife and kids and imagines their faces—as well as the turkey and pie coming out of the oven—before he stops and goes back for his comic sidekick.
Anyone with siblings will recognize the ridiculous falling out that ensues when the family carves the turkey without one of the brothers present. And anyone with older relatives who like to hear themselves tell and retell the same story again and again and again will recognize the Thanksgiving dinner scene in Avalon, which simultaneously celebrates and questions the notion of a day of thanks.
The Three Stooges
Curly is in charge of stuffing the turkey in this slapstick Thanksgiving short.
The Turkey Song
If you watch no other Thanksgiving clip, you simply must sit through Adam Sandler’s original performance of The Turkey Song. It is, in itself, something for which I give thanks.
These scenes are but a handful of what’s out there. Not seeing any of your family’s must-watch-every-Thanksgiving moments? Let us know in a comment below.