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Thanksgiving is a Charlie Brown kind of holiday

Updated: December 22, 2012 6:04AM

Pop quiz!

What’s your favorite moment from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”?

Maybe it’s that school play rehearsal scene, when the kids (and Snoopy) ignore Charlie Brown and jam onstage to the eternally addictive “Linus and Lucy” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Shoulder shrug!

Or the moment when a despondent Charlie Brown wonders what Christmas is really all about — and Linus takes center stage and quotes the Gospel according to Luke.

Or the scene in which the kids transform Charlie Brown’s sad little tree into a sparkling gem, say, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” and sing, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Second question.

What’s your favorite moment from “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”?

I’ll hang up and wait for my answer.

Have some turkey, Chuck

Other than the opening scene of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” — an animated version of Lucy enticing Charlie Brown to kick the football, and Charlie falling for the old gag — there’s little from that special that immediately leaps to mind.

Who remembers the plot that involves Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock putting together a rather depressing Thanksgiving meal for some of their friends (are these kids all orphans?) before Charlie Brown’s (unseen) grandmother comes to the rescue, inviting everyone over to her condominium for a true Thanksgiving celebration? Who remembers Vince Guaraldi contributing a vocal number, “Little Birdie,” to the special? I know I didn’t until I looked it up.

Whether it’s TV, movies or pop tunes, for every one Thanksgiving-themed entry there are dozens of Christmas standards. It says something about the paucity of interest in Turkey Day entertainment that “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” debuting on CBS on Nov. 20, 1973, was the tenth half-hour Peanuts special, arriving after not only “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966), but also “It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown” (1969), “Play It Again, Charlie Brown” (1971) and the immortal “You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown” (1972.)

I know. I don’t remember those last three either.

A short season

When I was asked to put together a list of my favorite Thanksgiving movies (see the video at or on the Sun-Times’ website), a few perennial contenders sprang to mind, e.g., “Home for the Holidays” or, if you’re in an educational mood of sorts, something like Terrence Malick’s “The New World.” Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” is bookended by two Thanksgiving celebrations, Ang Lee’s 1970s period piece “The Ice Storm” is set during Thanksgiving and Katie Holmes shines as the family black sheep trying to reunite her estranged family with a Thanksgiving meal in “Pieces of April.”

After that we start stretching. John Hughes’ “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is routinely cited as the best Thanksgiving movie of all time, and indeed the driving force for Steve Martin’s Neal Page is to get home to his family in time for Thanksgiving — but it’s not as if the bulk of this classic road comedy is about Thanksgiving.

Thing is, there’s no Thanksgiving “season,” per se. (We’re talking pop culture, but obviously this applies to the Christian faith as well. Growing up, my house always had an Advent Calendar. There ain’t no Thanksgiving Calendar. There’s the 12 Days of Christmas. There’s the One Day of Thanksgiving.) There’s a Halloween season, with weeks of buildup — but come Nov. 1, the stores quickly shift gears to the Christmas theme, pretty much bypassing Thanksgiving.

What’s the movie that’s recently become something of a Thanksgiving afternoon/evening viewing tradition for millions of families? “Home Alone.” Which is set at Christmastime. As the dishes are cleared and the dessert table is prepared, “Home Alone” — originally released just before Thanksgiving 1990 — plays on the flat-screen in the living room as a kind of transition to the holiday season.

We’ll watch Christmas movies and Christmas TV shows and of course we’ll listen to those Christmas tunes on Lite-FM for weeks leading up to the big day. But even if there were more than a handful of memorable Thanksgiving Day movies, TV shows and tunes, who would start playing them in early October?

It’s all about mood. We get in the mood for Thanksgiving on the Monday before Thanksgiving. We get in the mood for Christmas before the last piece of pumpkin pie has been consumed.

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