What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving specials? You may immediately think of the annual “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” or the classic NFL games showcasing the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys. These are some of the most well-known examples of what to watch on Thanksgiving, but there are numerous other Thanksgiving specials that are seldom mentioned. Read through and find out what Thanksgiving specials you should check out for the wonderful holiday.
“The Mayflower Voyagers”
Countless families have seen “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” The classic 1973 half-hour special features the “Peanuts” gang celebrating Thanksgiving with an unconventional meal of buttered toast, jellybeans and popcorn. But few people know about “The Mayflower Voyagers,” the first episode of the miniseries “This Is America, Charlie Brown.”
Set in the year 1620, the gang joins the Pilgrims on their voyage from England to America. The near extinction of the adult population forces the children to take on their elders’ positions, and by pure miracle, all them survive the harsh winter. True to U.S. history, the settlers encounter two English-speaking Native Americans: Samoset and Squanto. They teach the settlers how to survive on the foreign land; and the local Native American tribe and the Pilgrims celebrate with a three-day feast.
At first glance, this episode seems less like a “Peanuts” special and more akin to a video shown in history class. However, seeing the children take on the responsibilities of the older generations while Snoopy and Woodstock get into hijinks creates a delightful, yet grounded portrayal of the Pilgrims’ hardships. The episode’s blend of child-like wonder and real-life situations is masterfully executed in a way that’s rarely seen in “Peanuts” specials.
Although it creatively depicted seven more U.S. historical events, “This Is America, Charlie Brown” never reached the popularity of other “Peanuts” specials. After it premiered on CBS in 1989, the series would be rerun in the summer of 1990. Disney Channel aired episodes between 1993 and 1997, and Nickelodeon played reruns between 1998 and 2003. “The Mayflower Voyagers” was the only episode to be annually syndicated past this point, always airing after “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” between 2008 and 2019.
The next forgotten Thanksgiving special is, to put it frankly, quite uncanny. “Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow,” also known as “Turkey Hollow,” follows two kids residing in the city of Turkey Hollow as they attempt to find the “Howling Hoodoo,” a ten-foot monster considered a legend by local citizens. Ludacris, of all celebrities, narrates their adventure we watch the kids as they search for the monster while exposing the illegal activities of their scheming neighbors.
The movie’s stylistic visuals are similar to those of other Henson projects such as “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal.” The intricate designs of the puppets add a dark tone to the film, but the heartfelt personalities of the characters and the surprisingly colorful backdrops of the rustic environment give the special an outlandish charm. Although it lacks depth in its narrative and character development, the film makes up for it with the fascinating design of its autumn aura.
“Turkey Hollow” aired on the Lifetime channel in November 2015. Despite the movie’s Thanksgiving theme, even some Henson fans have forgotten about it. The film was a passion project for Henson, but he shelved it for numerous years. However, its premise was adapted into a graphic novel in 2014, titled “The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow.” The following year, “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop” worked on fabricating the animatronics and updating Henson’s previous designs.
The final Thanksgiving special is a personal recommendation for the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which includes multiple iconic Thanksgiving episodes. The series revolves around Raymond, who lives with his wife, Debra, and their three kids across the street from his parents, Frank and Marie, and older brother, Robert. While the series doesn’t center Thanksgiving by any means, it offers a unique portrayal of Thanksgiving traditions.
One of the most notable episodes is season eight’s “The Bird,” in which the family visits the parents of Robert’s wife, Amy, for Thanksgiving. Amy’s parents initially seem like the polar opposite of Ray’s family, as they are a conservative, Christian family. Tensions rise when Amy’s mother, Pat, unexpectedly snaps a bird’s neck, shocking Ray’s family. The elder parents argue about the incident and each other’s lifestyles until Debra and the kids commence a “Thanksgiving pageant.”
This leads to an awkward play about the Pilgrims and the origins of the first Thanksgiving dinner (similar to the “Peanuts” special mentioned earlier). One scene involves Ray (portraying Squanto) teaching the pilgrims how to fish and grow crops. Although they intended to conclude the pageant with Frank and Amy’s fathers embracing each other, they both refuse to hug. However, a quick exchange reveals secret feelings between Robert and Amy, prompting Debra to act as a mediator for both families. They eventually reconcile when the food is cooked and served, and both families to join together in the feast.
The dichotomy of both families brilliantly mirrors the dichotomy between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims. The tensions between the families were already brewing before the pageant started. Once the family sets the play in motion, members of each family ad-lib in between the scripted parts. Their comments surrounding the bird incident offer witty social commentary on the dynamic between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
These are just a select few Thanksgiving specials to consider over the holiday. Are they completely forgotten? Probably not. But they go to show how each special can interpret the holiday through its respective comedic and aesthetic style. We can still enjoy football games, parades and other popular specials, but we ought to take the time to understand why we observe this holiday. Through the triumphs and plights of our favorite characters we can better understand America’s complex history and the notable contributions of those who first called it home.