Year after year, during the week of Thanksgiving, families gather around the television to watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Since it first aired on November 20, 1973, it has become as much of the holiday tradition as the turkey, the Macy’s Parade, and backyard football.
It is a welcome site when our television screens begin projecting this classic cartoon. We find comfort that Charlie Brown still doesn’t kick that football, and that Snoopy is given more responsibility than the average beagle. Comforting especially when department stores quickly replace Halloween decorations with Christmas ones; when politicians debate who should and should not be welcomed; and when saying, “Thank you,” seems to be nothing more than the reminders of a nagging parent.
In the special, Sally tells Charlie Brown that she went to the store to get a turkey tree and there was all this “Christmas stuff.” Later she laments, “I haven’t even finished eating all my Halloween candy!” (even though she was in the pumpkin patch with Linus on Halloween). We feel Sally’s pain. Before we even get to Thanksgiving, we are bombarded with Christmas music, Christmas sales, and Christmas decorations.
Has the materialism of Christmas caused a forgetting of the tradition of Thanksgiving?
While we value A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving as a sacred tradition, tradition seems to be turned upside down in this cartoon. It all starts when Peppermint Patty invites not only herself, but also Marcie and Franklin to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving, even though Charlie Brown and Sally are going to their grandmother’s for Thanksgiving. Unable to tell Peppermint Patty no to anything, Charlie Brown hosts an unconventional Thanksgiving dinner.
We have to pause for a moment to acknowledge the soundtrack during the scene where Snoopy and Woodstock pull out a ping-pong table and random chairs. It is brilliant animation. The composer Vince Guaraldi sang the song “Little Birdie” in this segment. His was the first adult human voice used in any of the Peanut specials.
Snoopy prepares a dinner of buttered toast, popcorn, jelly beans, and pretzels. Before they eat, Peppermint Patty insists that they say grace. Linus, the little theologian that he is, offers a Thanksgiving speech. His history lesson about the first Thanksgiving dinner became the basis for the animated special This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers some thirteen years later.
Once the meal is served, Peppermint Patty wants to know, “Where’s the turkey??” The traditional Thanksgiving meal that she was expecting, is not what she got. I am certain that there will be many this Thanksgiving who will not experience any of the traditions that they expected. Yet it is Marcie who reminds the group (and us) that, “Thanksgiving is more than eating.”
At the beginning of the cartoon, Sally asks the question, “What do I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?” Here, Marcie provides the answer:
“We should be thankful for being together.”
Abraham Lincoln was the president who officially made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Lincoln’s speech echoed George Washington’s call for an official “day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” And now we have that day. A time to come together and be thankful for what we have. And yet, it seems that giving thanks has become a challenge for Schultz’ time and ours.
Instead, we fill our Facebook, Twitter, and other areas of public discussion with a lot of back and forth regarding various social issues. Politicians are using the public airwaves to criticize one another. And Christians are worried about what is or is not on a Starbucks cup.
As Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty reconcile, Peppermint Patty says, “There’s enough problems in the world already, Chuck, without these stupid misunderstandings.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Let us gather to celebrate the tradition of Thanksgiving – being together and giving thanks.