As I’m writing this it’s Monday, November 6th, 2017. Two opposing things happened this past weekend: First, virtually every store put out its Christmas stock, and many of them began playing Christmas carols. Two: The internet was washed over with memes decrying the onslaught of premature yuletide cheer. “Where’s the Thanksgiving cheer?” such memes asked. “Let Thanksgiving have its turn!” In years past, I would have been one of those people—have been one of those people—knocking the Christmas decorations coming out too soon, groaning in frustration as I searched the radio for music that didn’t accompany bells, searching in frustration for discounted Halloween merch only to learn that it was packed away the day before Halloween to make room for Santa’s Village. I have been one of those people demanding that Thanksgiving get its fair shake. Now, it’s not that I hate Christmas—I’ve never gotten that jaded. In fact, it’s always been my favorite holiday. Sorry, Halloween, I live and breathe horror 24/7—I’m celebrating you every day already. Christmas is the one time of year that I can let my inner sentimentalist out and not seem like a sap. Still, I’ve never thought Thanksgiving got its fair shake—there’s a whole almost two months between Halloween and Christmas and Thanksgiving is right there in the middle of it. Why not wait til Black Friday to bring out the decorations and switch radio formats?
This year, I’ve softened a bit though. I think a lot of it has to do with 2017—whichever side of the political spectrum you fall on, it hasn’t exactly been sunshine and roses; and, depending which side of the spectrum you fall on, it has been nightmares and hellscapes. In a year that somehow managed to pack almost every political crisis of the 1970s into ten months, plus mass shootings, fears of war, and sex scandals out of the Marquis de Sade’s darkest dreams, maybe some extra Christmas celebration isn’t a bad thing this year. Maybe some escapism is called for. Maybe we need a few extra weeks of well-earned reprieve from tragedy and existential torture to briefly—just briefly—indulge in thoughts of winter wonderlands, presents, and fantasy-land cityscapes of Rockwellian bliss.
And Thanksgiving just isn’t going to cut it.
That’s something I realized this past weekend, aimlessly wandering Michaels for forty-five minutes, letting the tinny Christmas muzak and garland drive thoughts of Trump and North Korea from my mind. There’s a reason we jump straight from Halloween and into Christmas: Thanksgiving has a lousy PR department.
Quick, name a Thanksgiving song. Can’t? That’s OK—there aren’t any. Here’s an easier one, though: Name a Thanksgiving movie. I’ll wait. Still waiting. Did you finally remember that Planes, Trains, and Automobiles takes place at Thanksgiving? Yeah, a lot of other people think it’s a Christmas movie, too. Think of another one? No? Join the club.
In preparation for this article, I looked up several magazines’ and blogs’ lists of the best movies to watch this Thanksgiving. Spoiler alert: 99% of them are Christmas movies. Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life are all consistent staples of “Best Thanksgiving Movies” listicles. Out of the remaining 1%, the majority are TV specials, the one area where the holiday seems to have gotten some rep—strangely, most of those seem to have come out of the 1980s, the one decade that apparently gave a damn. For cinematic representation, Thanksgiving has to lean on Home for the Holidays, the sweet-but-forgotten 1995 Jodi Foster movie; and The House of Yes, which, oh shit, do not show The House of Yes to your family for Thanksgiving. Curiously, there are multiple films which feature Thanksgiving scenes, but which don’t ruminate on the holiday. Rocky, You’ve Got Mail, and Addams Family Values (hell yeah, Addams Family Values) all feature memorable Thanksgiving sequences, but the rest of the movies aren’t about the holiday, the lead-up to the holiday, or the fallout from something that happened on the holiday, and you could just as easily swap out Thanksgiving for Christmas in all of those movies and change almost nothing about the film. The ill-fated Thanksgiving play in Addams Family could just as easily be the Christmas pageant from hell.
Why isn’t there more marketing around Thanksgiving? Maybe it has to do with the origins of the holiday. As peaceful as the first Thanksgiving might have been, it still precipitated generations of racial violence against the Native Americans. Christmas—especially the secular American Christmas as it’s come to be celebrated—doesn’t have quite so many skeletons in its closet. Taking politics out of the equation, Thanksgiving sort of functions as a test-run for Christmas. You get together with your family and eat a butt-ton of food. And then that’s it. Come Christmas, you get the food plus presents and other awesome stuff. It’s like if, every year, a month before your birthday, somebody took you out for a hamburger and you talked about ideas for what to get you for your birthday. It’d be fun, sure, but, a minor tradition, and not something worthy of too much time or investment. That hamburger is nice, but in a month there’ll be cake and presents and other stuff. That’s Thanksgiving—the turkey’s great, but, does it really warrant that much buildup? And, if it doesn’t, why bother investing an entire movie or song into it? It’s a holiday that really is only worthy of that TV special—something convenient and heartwarming to turn on while everyone’s hanging out after dinner but don’t have any presents to open. (Oh, and the best is still Bart vs. Thanksgiving, from The Simpsons’ second season. Just had to throw that out there).
Maybe someone will make the definitive Thanksgiving movie one day, or, like, Beyonce or Daft Punk (or Beyonce and Daft Punk) will come out with the definitive Thanksgiving song, and the holiday will take on its own air of urgency. Maybe some modern-day Don Draper will decide to launch a massive ad campaign tied up in Thanksgiving the way Coca-Cola did with Christmas and find a way to turn it into a grander celebration than it currently is. Until then, Thanksgiving is like that theoretical pre-birthday hamburger—a harbinger (haha, hamburger harbinger) of bigger, better things.
So bring on Christmas this year. Bring on the the decorations, the trees, the elves. Bring on the music (will this be the year that radio stations finally give more airplay to Joni Mitchell’s River and The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping, two of the most underappreciated Christmas songs of all time? Probably not. A boy can dream). Bring on the Christmas-themed Starbucks drinks and eggnog. Bring on the cold weather (oh, God, please bring on the cold weather). There was another mass shooting yesterday. By the time I finish this article there’ll probably have been another one, plus another celebrity exposed as a sex predator, plus another dumbass tweet taking us closer to the brink of war. This year, we don’t just need a little Christmas, we need a lot of it, right this very minute.